This is a sequel to Crab Sandwiches, Book
One. It helps to have read the first one. This is a story about life and the
end of it.
Comments on this story can be sent to the author: firstname.lastname@example.org
Hutch sat beside the bed feeling like he'd been
locked into some perverted loop in time, relentlessly repeating the worst days
of his life. Starsky was back on chemo and had again spent the last few days
hunched over a basin throwing up his guts. Two days had gone by, the IV
infusions finished until next time, but some things never changed. The smell of
sickness, sweat, and fear. Starsky was completely depleted after the first
round--what would the next five hold, and could he survive them? Hutch had such
a bellyache he was beginning to wonder if he were developing an ulcer. Just what
he needed under the current circumstances. He couldn't get sick, too. With this
in mind, he'd been working hard to eat right and get as much physical exercise
as he could cram into his already overflowing schedule.
"Happy, happy New Year!" Huggy crowed,
marching into the sickroom wearing an outfit guaranteed to brighten the darkest
corners. He sported a bright red and yellow striped jacket, matching yellow
shirt and red slacks. A red hat with a yellow band completed the ensemble. 1985
was printed across the front of the shirt in huge letters.
Next to his parrot-inspired clothing Daisy looked
positively demure in a short black skirt and low cut black and white striped,
boat-necked tee. As usual, she carried a covered picnic basket full of wonderful
"Happy New Year," Hutch responded
automatically, just as he'd been doing all day long, even though his mood was
far from chipper. He glanced over at the occupant of the bed, surprised to see
that Starsky had opened one eye and was watching the proceedings as if deciding
whether he wanted to join in or not.
"You plannin' on entering the Rose Parade,
Hug?" Starsky slurred, pulling himself up in the bed. Hutch reached over to
fluff up the pillow, but Starsky shrugged him off.
"Bro! It's a whole new year and a whole new
att-ti-tude," Huggy announced, puffing out his chest. "Me an' Daisy
are gonna open a restaurant."
"I'm thinking of calling it 'Mama Bear's',"
Daisy grinned, unpacking the bonanza of food she'd brought.
"Giving up 'The Pits', Huggy?" Hutch asked
in astonishment. That would take getting used to. While Huggy had worked in
various dining and drinking establishments, and in a range of other fields of
endeavor, 'The Pits' had fit him like a 'T'. And it had become almost a second
home to both Hutch and Starsky.
"No, 'course not, that's the cornerstone of our
soon to be all encompassing network of food emporiums!" Huggy spread his
hands wide, taking in half of Bay City in the sweep. "Bars, bakeries,
restaurants, the Bear family will provide a haven of good food, fine drink, and
scrumptious delights to all citizens of this fair metropolis."
"Superman lives here?" Starsky remarked
with an enigmatic grin. At this point Hutch was happy for even the smallest
signs of life from his partner. And as usual, Starsky was rising to the
occasion, pulling out all the stops for his guests. He'd be exhausted after they
were gone, leaving Hutch to deal with his grumpy disposition.
"Doesn't Superman live in Gotham City?"
Hutch asked with a tad too much innocence. He knew full well he didn't, he just
wanted to get Starsky's goat and rev him up a little.
"Hutch! When was the last time you read a
comic?" Starsky protested, the light of indignation in his eyes.
"Blondie, everybody knows Batman and Robin live
in G. Ci-ty." Huggy held out a bottle of champagne. Not as good a label as
the one Hutch had shared with Starsky three days earlier, but not exactly
Thunderbird, either. "Bubbly anyone?"
"I'll toast to your venture into the world of
financial tycoons," Hutch agreed. "But Starsky gets…"
"Starsky wants champagne," Starsky said
testily, reaching for a glass. "And Starsky can speak for himself."
Okay, Hutch thought silently, he was in for an
argument later. Starsky was in a peevish mood and not about to hold it in.
"I've brought sparkling apple cider if anyone
wants it," Daisy offered.
"What else didja bring, sweetheart?"
Starsky asked, pointedly ignoring Hutch.
"In keeping with the California tradition of
crab at the new year, I've made crab salad on focaccia bread, with corn pudding
on the side, tomato and jicama slices for the vegetable, and eggnog cheese cake
"Sounds delicious," Starsky said, watching
while Huggy poured out the drinks. When everyone had a wineglass full of
champagne, they clinked them together, the chime of good crystal tinkling like
fairy bells. "Happy New Year."
"Happy New Year," Daisy echoed with a grin.
"I can't believe the way my life has turned around in such a short time.
Last January my ex was sentenced to twenty in Soledad, and I was about ready to
join the girls on the corner to make a living."
"But you went back to what you do best,
cooking," Hutch said, sipping the effervescent wine.
"Oh, that ain't what she does best, if you know
what I mean." Huggy rolled his eyes suggestively.
"Huggy!" Daisy groaned, smacking his arm.
"Crude, rude and unrefined."
"She's tryin' to instill a little fin-esse in
the Bear." Huggy took a mouthful of corn pudding. "Tasty, my dear.
Goes right on the menu."
"What will be the slant of the new place?"
"Very eclectic--diverse, and we'll change the
menu frequently to keep people coming back," Daisy enthused.
"Of course, there'll be a few regular items on
the menu--decided to include an old favorite around here, with the name changed
just a little," Huggy said. "A hamburger with all the trimmings--and
extra hot sauce, is now the Starsky Special."
"Thanks, Hug," Starsky murmured, sounding
surprised, but there was a brittle edge to his voice that worried Hutch. Starsky
was brewing for an explosion, and he hadn't the slightest idea why.
"This is really good, Daisy." Hutch ate
much of what was on his plate, eyeing his partner the whole time. Starsky was
making a good show of eating, but mostly the food was scooped up on the red
plastic fork, brought to his lips, tasted briefly and then put back on the
plate. He did drink the whole glass of champagne and ask for more, but luckily
Huggy had drunk the last of it, so Daisy poured sparkling cider into Starsky's
"Is there really a prison ward upstairs?"
Daisy asked, glancing at the light fixture in the ceiling as if expecting to see
criminals coming out from the heating ducts.
"I have it on good authority that Ernie Mancuso
has the room right above mine." Starsky put aside his barely touched plate
of food. "But supposedly he's goin' back to a cell in the morning. Heart
attack doesn't get you outta the slammer for good."
"Aren't you worried?" she shivered, piling
plates back into the basket.
"The ward is locked," Hutch assured.
"No one's escaped from there in years--they're usually too sick, and then
sent back to prison before they're any threat to the staff or other
"I just never knew until I heard about Mancuso
on the news." Daisy laughed self-consciously. "That they put the
murderers in with everybody else in the hospital. Seems like this ought to be a
really safe place."
"It is," Hutch defended.
"Like hell it is," Starsky negated,
"I'll keep you safe, babycakes," Huggy
promised, giving Daisy a quick kiss on the lips. For s second they lingered,
locked together in passion then parted hastily, their ardor only partially
quelled. "I think we need to get going, huh?"
"The Pits will be packed again tonight, and
you've probably got a bunch of visitors wanting to welcome in the new
year," Daisy agreed, then took Starsky's hand. "Oh, you've got warm
hands. Mine are always freezing this time of year. I just wanted to tell you
talking to you helped me, too…and I did tell Huggy."
"Yeah?" For the first time that day Starsky
really smiled, his expression soft and wistful looking at the pretty girl.
"Shifted some stuff into place, that's for sure. That was nice a'you."
"Any time. And if you have any of your mother's
old cookie recipes, I'd be happy to try them out."
"I'll call Aunt Rose." Starsky nodded.
Once Huggy and Daisy left most of the light left,
too, a distinct chill settling over the hospital room. Hutch was surprised how
wary he was of being alone with his lover. He didn't know why, just that the
very air felt oppressive and heavy. "What did you and Daisy talk
about?" he asked lightly.
"You bent on prying every last secret out of
me?" Starsky snarled.
"No, Starsk, just asking." He held up his
hands in apology, palms out. "She did help you, I was just curious. You
weren't very…friendly today until the end, is all."
"Oh, yeah, I just love having people come in
here all excited about the future while I'm stuck in bed heaving up my
insides." Starsky attacked. "Like I asked to have that thrown in my
face! The Starsky Special. Shit. You know he did that cause he thinks I'm going
t'die, don't you?"
Unable to breathe, Hutch just stared at his partner
in shock. He truly had no idea where this was coming from, and yet, from a back
corner of his brain, there was something horribly familiar about it. "Don't
"Why?" he shouted in return. "It's
true, isn't it? Life is all about death. Start dying from the minute we're born.
I'm just one of the lucky ones, I get to go twice."
"Starsky." Hutch touched his arm in
supplication, but Starsky recoiled. Stunned, Hutch stood still trying to process
what was going on, and it was then that something finally registered in his
tired brain. Wanting to be sure, Hutch sat on the edge of the bed to gently lay
the back of his hand on a flushed cheek. Although Starsky looked about ready to
bolt, he didn't move. "Just hold still for a minute. Do you have a
"I don't know," Starsky wiggled away from
the touch, irritated. "Does every single body function have to be up for
"I'll call Katie…"
"Starsky, you could be sick."
"Big surprise there, huh? Gemma'll be in here
precisely at sixteen hundred hours, 'cause that's the kind of nurse she is, and
she'll write down all those stupid little numbers all over again." Starsky
closed his eyes, wiping sweat off his forehead. "What does it matter if
Katie takes 'em any sooner?"
"That's two hours from now," Hutch said
quietly. It was just coming up on two o'clock, and the nurses would be finishing
up assignments before shift change at three p.m. He was fully aware that if
Starsky was sick he'd need a full compliment of blood work up and antibiotics
started, meaning a lot of work for the nurses at the end of the day shift. On
the other hand, if they waited until Gemma arrived, Starsky could be even
sicker, as quickly as these things seemed to come on. "It matters to
me," he said softly, looking back at Starsky. The sick man still lay back
on the pillow, eyes closed, arms crossed over the top of his head like he was
protecting himself from some menace from above. He looked weary, and very ill.
"I'm going to call Katie," Hutch decided.
"So now I don't have any control over my own
body whatsoever?" Starsky growled. "Like I've been raped, every damn
person in the whole universe can come in here an' do what they damn well please,
cause I've ceased to exist as a thinking, breathing person. And you think I'm
not dead yet?"
The pain in his chest almost unbearable, Hutch
struggled to keep calm. Starsky was irrational right now, he'd be better when
they gave him meds and painkillers. Except, to a certain extent Hutch agreed
with him. The doctors and nurses had stripped away nearly every shred of
autonomy Starsky had left. Did he have the right to insist that Starsky get
treated for whatever was currently affecting him? It was perilously close
to rape, without the violence. Violating Starsky's body without his
consent--some of the tests were very painful. But it was for his own good,
wasn't it? To save his life.
Almost unsteadily, Hutch walked out into the hall.
Katie, a very young nurse who'd only recently graduated from school, looked up
from writing her shift summary report.
"Ken?" she asked with concern. "Does
Dave need something?"
"He's…I think he has a fever," Hutch
"Oh, I'll be right there. Thanks for telling
me," she answered cheerfully, tucking a strand of dark blond hair back into
A simple taking of vital signs did reveal a high
temperature, which in turn led to a septic work-up where blood was drawn for
several tests. The charge nurse who was helping Katie explained that these were
to determine the presence of bacteria in the blood, and how the immune system
was working. Starsky's wasn't working very well at all, and his bacteria count
was high. By the following shift, he was started on antibiotics, and more tests
were ordered, including a spinal tap. Hutch's already acidy belly lurched
towards his knees at the very mention of the procedure.
"Doesn't that mean you think he has something
really serious?" Hutch questioned the earnest looking Dr. Lloyd. He was one
of the two other oncologists who regularly worked in the Rose Tree Unit. Many of
the patients came from other hospitals to this one because of the exemplary care
here, and brought their own cancer specialists with them, but John Davies,
Mitchell Lloyd, and Ellen Weaver were the main doctors on the Unit. Hutch had
often heard from other patients and their families that Lloyd was a little too
eager to do every test in the book even after a
bacterial or viral culprit had been found.
"Well, in David's case we need to err on the
side of caution. He's had a UTI before--and pneumonia only a few weeks
ago." He pushed up the perpetually crooked wire-rims he wore. "In a
healthy person, with a working immune system, the infection can be isolated to a
small area of the body, but for someone like him, the chemo has pretty much
wiped out his ability to fight disease. Thus, the bacteria can run rampant and
attack areas usually off limits."
"So you know he has a urinary tract infection,
again?" Hutch asked in dismay.
"Very likely, from all indications. What I'm
afraid of is bacteria getting to his brain and causing meningitis. In his
present condition, that would be fatal, which is why I need to do a tap."
Hutch nodded, walking with leaded feet back into
Starsky's room. Starsky's mood had only darkened with repeated needle sticks and
new medications. The doctors were having some difficulty finding antibiotics
that didn't cause adverse side effects for him. The one that had produced hives
was out, as was another that brought with it immediate vomiting, not an easily
dismissed reaction for someone already constantly retching.
"You've got that look in your eye," Starsky
"Lloyd wants to do a spinal tap," Hutch
"Lloyd can fuck himself."
"He's worried about an infection in your
brain!" Hutch flared.
"Have him stick a needle in his own spine, see
how he likes it."
Terror coursing through his veins, Hutch slammed his
palm against the nightstand, making Starsky flinch in surprise. "I get that
you're fed up with this! I get that you're tired. Well, I'm tired, too, dammit,
but you have to keep fighting."
"How? There's nothing left, Hutch! I don't care
anymore! And you know that crap about eatin' the crab? It's a crock a'shit,"
Starsky raged, and as scared as Hutch was right then, he also knew Starsky
needed to get out the anger or it would fester inside. "I was deludin'
myself big time to think that would get rid of the cancer."
"Creative visualization is a useful tool…"
"Everything sucks, and if I died right now, I'd
"You'd leave me?" Hutch asked, totally
spent, sinking down onto the side of the bed. Starsky looked like crap, there
was no arguing that. The sweet, short curls that had grown in, soft as a
chinchilla pelt, were damp with sweat, plastered to his skull. Fever had
produced the overly bright red cheeks that glowed obscenely in his otherwise
pale face, and he had the look of someone who'd been ill for a very long time.
"Without so much as a good-bye? Is that all there is between us?"
Starsky looked away, but his shoulders heaved when he
took a breath in.
Knowing he was manipulating the situation
shamelessly, Hutch still plowed ahead, desperate for this all to be over.
"Please, Starsky, do this for me?"
"God, don't you know I do everything for
you?" Starsky said despairingly.
Hutch cupped that beloved face between his hands,
turning Starsky to face him, feeling the abnormal temperature burning his palms.
"Never forget that I love you."
"And we have to really work hard to keep a good
attitude through all this--you most of all, because you're fighting the hardest.
But, Starsky, everything I read says that a positive attitude works." Hutch
kissed each eyelid reverently, feeling Starsky's acquiescence down to his soul.
"It really can work miracles."
"Helps to believe in 'em."
Since Gemma had the needed equipment all ready,
Starsky was prepped and draped for the procedure within minutes. Hutch held his
hand as he was curved forward so that the doctor had a good view of the spine.
"This won't take long," Lloyd said.
"I'm going to numb the area with Lidocaine, so you'll feel this needle
stick, and not the one…"
"I've had one before," Starsky said flatly,
his tone implying that he wasn't in the mood for explanations or platitudes.
"Just do it."
Hutch, having spent all of his recent free time
studying the MCAT book, not to mention every other beginning level medical text
he could get his hands on, watched the procedure out of the corner of his eye,
feeling Starsky's grip tighten. As much as he hated that Starsky had to have
another painful test, he was also becoming so much more fascinated with
everything medical. Reading about procedures in a book was one thing, physically
manipulating a needle into the spaces between the vertebrae was quite another.
All of it just emphasized how little he knew, but the general Ed. questions in
the MCAT were proving easier than he'd expected. Every time he breezed through a
problem, his confidence soared. If nothing else, he'd go into medical school
with advanced knowledge of anything pertaining to osteosarcoma treatments.
He almost laughed, despite the grim situation,
realizing he was already imagining himself in medical school, and he hadn't even
taken the test yet. That certainly counted as creative visualization.
"There, all done, and the fluid looks clear,
which is a good sign." Lloyd pressed a small Band-Aid over the tiny mark
and Starsky stiffened.
"How you doing?" Hutch asked gently,
smoothing his forehead as Gemma helped Starsky lay flat once more.
"Terrific, can't you tell?" Starsky replied
"Stay prone for a few hours, it will help
prevent a headache, but if you do experience pain, I'll write an order for a
painkiller," Lloyd said, directing the nurse to clean up the mess he'd made
"I'll bet he's a joy to work with," Hutch
observed, helping Gemma wheel the small Mayo stand out of the room.
She pursed her lips, trying unsuccessfully to hide a
smile, but her dimples gave her away. Gemma might be old enough to be his
mother, but Hutch had discovered she had a wicked sense of humor. "Some of
the girls call him Lloyd the Droid."
"Behind his back, of course," Hutch
"See if David will drink something," Gemma
said. "And I'll be back to check up on him after I see to the Colonel's
"The Colonel?" Hutch asked.
"He fought in the Pacific theater in World War
II and in Korea," Gemma said. "Very interesting stories."
"Sounds like someone Starsky'd get along well
with--he loves all those fighter pilot movies." Hutch looked back at his
partner lying in the bed. Starsky appeared to be asleep, but was probably just
lying with his eyes closed. "Starsk, you want a soda?"
"I could go down to the machine in the
cafeteria, get some root beer or Orange Crush," Hutch wheedled.
Starsky opened one eye, squinting up at him.
"With ice cream?"
"You gonna eat it if I do?"
"You're on." Hutch grinned, hoping that
this was a signal that Starsky's attitude was changing. It was a whole new year,
filled with hope and promise, but for Hutch only one thing would make it a happy
one. If David Starsky went into remission.
January was a month of rain and vomiting. Whole days,
even whole weeks, went by with Starsky only marginally aware of life outside his
room. He was down to basic survival.
Hutch despaired of ever getting the old Starsky back.
Glimpses of his cocky grin, quick wit and playful personality were few and far
between. Cancer was whittling Starsky away bit by bit--hair, weight, a leg.
Hutch had begun to hate the beast in a way he had never done before. After the
initial diagnosis, he had just feared that the disease would take his partner
away from him--to death. But now he found that Starsky had already been taken
away, even though he was still alive. Hutch's hatred of the disease now matched
Starsky's own, which spawned his desperate search for alternative treatments.
Cancer was the enemy, and he was going after it with both barrels. He haunted
Chinese herbal shops, pored over books from health food shops, and questioned
every person at the precinct for new remedies. Most of what he found were easily
dismissed as hoaxes or sugar placebos, leaving Hutch lost and fearful. Here he
was interested in medical school, and was rejecting current medical doctrine for
any cure he could latch on to.
One of the few things that offered any help at all
was fennel tea. Starsky, when he was up to talking at all, claimed it tasted
like shit, but it did help relieve the nausea if he took it first thing in the
morning, especially before his IV infusion had started. But over time, Starsky
began to retreat completely from the world.
Hutch was back at the Academy with a whole new class
of cadets. He really enjoyed spending time with young men and women who were
excited and passionate about their blossoming careers in law enforcement but he
was experiencing a feeling of detachment most of the time. He had to force
himself to join in discussions with any amount of enthusiasm, and annoying
projects such as grading papers and tests were almost beyond him.
Mid-January he caught a mild cold which banned him
from the Rose Tree Unit for five days. Hutch felt a fleeting sense of relief at
the reprieve, but that was short lived. He then spent the remaining four days
worried sick that something fearful would happen to Starsky while he couldn't be
there, only intensifying the already crippling stress and depression that
saddled him. Luckily, Starsky was in between treatments at the time and was, in
the nursing parlance, stable.
The third round of chemo was completed on schedule
but after that Starsky couldn't even muster the strength to sit up in bed. He
had absolutely no energy whatsoever and even shifting positions with the help of
a nurse was more than he could manage. He slept most of the time.
Hutch spent the morning of Sunday, January 27th,
at home working on lesson plans and sundry teacher duties. Since he had taken
over for the late Ben Logan after the fall semester had already started, the
early lectures were all new territory for him. Plus, his concentration was nil
these days. While he could have done the work in Starsky's room, to be near his
friend, he was finding that such an ordeal lately that he'd begun to wonder
about his own loyalty. How could he be so cruel, staying away when his lover,
his very soul mate, needed him the most? The problem was Starsky was hardly
there, rarely communicating and barely civil when he did.
After stopping for a bean sprout sandwich on whole
grain bread with a side of broccoli salad for himself, and a banana smoothie
with extra protein powder for Starsky, Hutch headed over to the hospital. He
tried to maintain an ulta-healthy diet, as he'd done so strenuously in his
younger days, and had lost several pounds. In fact, Huggy and Daisy were
beginning to worry about him, which he totally blew off. Starsky was the one who
was hanging onto a thread, he deserved all the worry. For himself, he needed to
shed the extra weight to keep up with his cadets.
Just stepping into the lobby elevator suddenly
ratcheted up Hutch's adrenaline levels. Something was wrong, he could feel it
down to his bones. He carefully wrapped the second half of the sandwich in cling
wrap and stowed it in his pocket, wondering whether to just pitch the smoothie
in the trash before even he got to the unit. Starsky probably wouldn't have
taken more than a sip or two anyway because the Adriamycin had given him a
stomach ulcer. Hutch watched the ascending numbers on the elevator monitor with
the growing fear that this was going to be one of those bad days.
"Hutch!" Calliope, the punk rocker ward
clerk, who now sported green spiked hair and a safety pin through one ear,
exclaimed. "How'd you get here so quickly? I just left a message on your
"I was on my way, what's wrong?" he asked,
just managing to keep his anxiety suppressed.
"Dr. Davies just wanted you to know that he's
ordered some tests for another septic work-up. Dave wasn't feeling so good this
"Damn," Hutch started to race to the room,
then paused, handing Calliope the smoothie. "You want this? Banana with
extra C and protein."
"My favorite, thanks!" she grinned, sipping
from the straw. "It's good."
John Davies was just leaving Starsky's room when
Hutch rounded the front desk for the hallway. "Glad to see you, Ken,"
"How is he?"
"His temperature went up a few hours ago, we
drew some blood, and I've started antibiotics. It's another waiting game,"
Davies said quietly. "It's probably pneumonia from the way his lungs sound,
"What the hell is going on here, John?"
Hutch barked louder than he should have. "Why does this keep happening? In
a hospital? Isn't this where people go to get well, not sicker?"
"Ken," Davies pronounced his name sharply,
indicating the open door of the family room. "Let's take this where we have
some privacy and won't wake the other patients."
"I've heard all your platitudes before,
John," Hutch ripped out savagely once they were in the pleasant room.
"But I'm tired of them. What are you going to do about this, now?"
"Prepare yourself to accept that Starsky may be
dying," the doctor said carefully, his handsome face compassionate and sad.
"NO!" Hutch shouted, anger surging up like
an Atlantic storm. "No, that I don't accept! I am not ready, and neither is
he. What antibiotic is he on, huh? Not the one that made him vomit, right? Will
this get rid of the pneumonia? Because there is no way this is killing him, no
"It's still too early to identify if the drug is
specific to whatever bacteria is in his bloodstream." Davies took a deep
breath. "You have to know that this is not easy for me. I really like
Starsky, and I don't want…sometimes things are out of our hands, no matter how
hard we try to change them."
"So what was the…what…eight, no, ten years
of medical school good for, then, huh?" Hutch raged, terrified of what the
doctor was telling him. He paced around the perimeter of the room, bypassing the
coffee machine and TV twice before Davies spoke again.
"We are taught to try to save lives," he
answered tiredly. "But there comes a time when we also learn that…nature
takes its course."
"Crock of shit, and a cop-out for you,
huh?" Hutch said savagely. "Cause this way it's out of your hands. So
the patient died, couldn't save him. That's the way things were meant to
be." He jerked the door open, not even glancing back at the other man.
"Starsky's proved you doctors wrong on more than one occasion, and he's
going to do it again. To think I considered going to medical school!" He
stomped out, crossing the hall to Starsky's room in only a few steps. But he
faltered at the doorjamb, almost afraid to go in.
Was this his penance for not being supportive enough?
Would Starsky have stayed healthy--well, less sick than he was now--if Hutch had
come through more? Could he have changed anything, or was Starsky's body truly
just giving up on him?
Walking into the familiar room just far enough to
watch the sleeping man, Hutch was overwhelmed with misplaced guilt. He knew he
wasn't at fault here, but he felt so bad, so culpable, nonetheless. He leaned
against the wall, weeping for all the good times they'd lost to this scourge.
Tears slipped silently down his face and he gave into the pain, hugging himself
tightly to keep from making a disturbance. At long last he scrubbed his cheeks
dry, approaching the bed to be that much closer to the only man he'd ever loved.
Starsky' skin was as dry and brittle as autumn
leaves, his body limp and unmoving. Hutch was almost afraid to touch him
anymore, afraid of feeling that horrible heat again. His temperature kept rising
as if his body were defying natural law. A glance at the nurse's notes showed
that he was currently at 40 Celsius which, if Hutch remembered correctly, was
something over 103 Fahrenheit. The numbers scared him. How long could Starsky's
already frail body withstand such a strain?
"Hey." The word was merely an exhalation of
air, but Hutch could have heard his partner's voice in a howling hurricane.
"I thought you were asleep," Hutch said
fondly, finally stroking Starsky's overly hot cheek with the back of his hand.
"I was, heard you…" Starsky squinted,
barely moving his head. He was wheezy, but not coughing, which Hutch hoped was a
good sign. "Wha' time z'it?"
"Noon--twelve thirty. I heard you had a rough
"Jus' hot." Starsky pushed away the sheet
covering him. His thin t-shirt and drawstring pajama pants were clinging damply
to him. "'M too hot."
"You've got a temperature again, but John
"Damn," Starsky muttered. "Again?
Nurses were sticking me." He held out a bony arm to show.
"You're all bruised," Hutch agreed
sympathetically, but strangely cheered just the same. This Starsky was far too
normal. He couldn't possibly be near death, and be this chatty. "You want
me to get a wet rag, cool you off?"
Hutch rinsed a washrag in cold water, wrung it out
and wiped it over Starsky's face. He did the same on his chest and arms, helped
Starsky change into clean clothes, and lastly folded the rag into a rectangle to
place on his forehead.
"Feels good," Starsky sighed, curling his
lax fingers into Hutch's. "Love you, Hutch."
"I love you, Starsk, more than all the stars in
the sky," Hutch responded, barely able to keep the tears out of his voice.
"S'good, then," Starsky agreed and was
"Why is it we always dwell on the worst case
scenario?" Hutch mused aloud. It was February first, nearly a week since
Starsky's recent pneumonia scare, and once again the patient had rallied. To
John Davies amazement, and Hutch's relief, Starsky was on the mend again.
Hutch was taking a rare break from the bedside to
fill Huggy in on the latest. He slumped against the bar sipping his beer, so
weary he couldn't think straight. He'd taught a class at the Academy in the
morning, visited Starsky at lunch time, overseen a crime scene at a jewelry
store in the afternoon, and been back at the hospital for dinner. He'd had
over-baked cod, and Starsky had actually eaten two mouthfuls of rice pudding.
Despite Starsky's disparaging comments about the creamy dessert he'd developed a
fondness for Mika's mother's secret recipe. It was the only thing he was
currently keeping down.
"I sit and think about him…getting
sicker," Hutch continued, turning the beer stein around in his hands.
"Imagine him failing…instead of just the opposite. He could just as
easily get better, right? He did get better--but I'm not as happy as I should
be. Why is that?"
"It's the same as when you're a little kid
hiding under the covers scared of the bogey man comin' down the hall,"
Huggy said. "The same ol' room where your brother's sleeping in the other
bed becomes a haunted house in the middle of the night with creaks and groans
like ghosts floatin' around." He clutched at his heart like that scared
child. "No matter what the reality, the brain automatically conjures up
what scares you the most. Death's at the top of the heap, my man."
"John Davies started talking about death--that
Starsky wouldn't make it." Hutch stared down into his beer, tiny waves
lapping the sides of the glass because his hands curled around the outside were
"Have you talked to Starsky?"
"I can't do that! He knows how I feel! He has to
"Yeah, man, I hear you, but do you know how he
feels?" Huggy asked shrewdly.
"He doesn't want to die." Hutch said
automatically, shaking his head, but he couldn't shut out the echoes of the
conversation he'd had with Starsky on New Year's. That he was one of the lucky
ones who got to die twice. Starsky could not be consciously thinking that death
was a good thing. That was impossible.
"Mika?" Starsky plastered on his most
convincing and winsome grin. "Can I sit up for a while?"
"Dave, it's nearly 11 p.m., you should be going
to sleep," she threatened with mock severity.
"I slept all day long, physical ther'pist says I
gotta get up more," he wheedled.
"This shift is almost over, you should be in
bed," Mika sighed, recording the last of his vitals on her sheet. Starsky
was proud that they were as average as anyone walking around Bay City who didn't
have a terminal disease. "Ken is asleep."
"He's had a long day." Starsky glanced over
at his slumbering partner. Luckily, as quickly as Hutch had gone down he'd be
out for a while, giving Starsky a long time to put his plan into action. Starsky
had made a decision that had been long coming, to retake control of his own
life. It felt really satisfying, like he'd finally taken a positive step, even
though Hutch might not think so. In fact, just thinking about Hutch's opinion on
the subject unnerved him just a tiny bit, so Starsky was trying not to look in
his direction. "C'mon, schweetheart, just for a while. I'll watch the
Friday night news. When Ginger comes on night shift she can help me back to
"I'll tell her to add a sleeping pill to your
late night cocktail." Mika rolled her eyes, but expertly transferred him
into the wheelchair next to the bed. She made sure the TV remote and a glass of
water were on the nightstand and waved good-bye.
Once she was gone, Starsky reached casually over and
disconnected the tubing from the IV port sewn into his chest. He was getting to
be an old pro at that, having helped with the easy procedure countless times.
Depressing the red button on the IV pump, he switched off the power. First part
of the plan carried out flawlessly. It had been weeks since he'd had the energy
to do anything even as strenuous as sitting up like this, but adrenaline
barreled through his veins, giving him the strength to do what had to be done
before he crashed and burned.
Starsky actually did flick on the TV, not paying the
slightest bit of attention to the somber anchorwoman describing a deadly car
crash on the 405. He was focused solely on the contents of the nightstand, and
nothing else. Starsky had watched carefully when Hutch stripped down for bed,
seeing him place his long barreled Python pistol in the drawer. With a calm
resolve born of desperation, Starsky removed the gun and hid it under his thigh.
The cold steel seemed to seep right through his pajama bottoms into his soul.
Knowing Hutch would never leave the gun loaded, Starsky propelled the wheelchair
a few feet forward to a pile of clothes casually tossed over a chair, and went
through the pockets. He found what he needed, his heart banging like a drum.
Hutch grumbled in his sleep and rolled over. Starsky
froze, staring at him, but Hutch had long grown accustomed to sleeping through
the sounds of a hospital at night. Nurses talking, the TV on, movement, were all
nothing new, and he rarely awakened anymore.
"I love you, Hutch," Starsky whispered
under cover of the TV weatherman predicting more rain. All the exertion had
loosened the phlegm in his chest and he stifled a cough with his fist, furiously
wheeling the wheelchair one handed to get as far away from Hutch as possible.
Once out in the hall, he looked furtively about, but
apparently had timed things perfectly. Just after 11 p.m. nearly all the evening
shift nurses, and all the fresh night nurses, went to the nurse's station for
report. The only remaining nurses were either finishing up last minute patient
care or counting narcotics in the med room. The long corridor was empty. Starsky
took a deep breath that threatened to bring on more coughing, and headed for the
solarium where he and Hutch had spent such a wonderful evening only one month
ago; before the resurgence of chemo, puking, and hair loss, much less two bouts
of bacterial infections, countless lab draws, and the end of any real joy in
Starsky's life. He'd had it. This had to end now.
"Where is he?"
Hearing the words in his sleep, Hutch tried to turn
away from the noise. He was getting better about sleeping through the frequent
disturbances from the medical staff who came into the room at all hours of the
night, but he rarely got a completely uninterrupted night's sleep.
"Ken? Where's David?" The nurse's voice was
sharp and well on the way to concerned.
That banished any last vestiges of sleep. Hutch sat
up fast, scanning the dim room. A plump nurse stood in the middle of the room in
front of an obviously empty bed.
"That's what I'd like to know," Ginger
replied. "I already checked the bathroom, he's not there. Mika said she got
him up into a wheelchair to watch the news just before 11."
"What time is it now?" Hutch asked,
scrambling out of bed. He always wore sweats to bed in deference to the nurses,
so once he slid his feet into slippers he was dressed.
"Damn," Hutch swore, swallowing any
outright terror. There had to be a logical explanation. Starsky was in no shape
to have gotten very far, and while there was a slight possibility that some
criminal bent on revenge might have sneaked in and taken him off, Hutch
discarded that theory immediately. Starsky must be close by, probably on this
"I need to tell the charge nurse."
"Keep things quiet for now," Hutch advised.
"I'll search down to the end of the hall, you go up that way. Isn't there a
nurse call button in every room?"
"Yes, even places like the family kitchen and
"Good, if I ring in the next few minutes, see if
you can be the one who responds." Hutch concentrated on maintaining a calm,
controlled exterior, his police training an advantage. But inside he was
quaking. What the hell had Starsky done?
He paused momentarily as Ginger hurried off in the
other direction. Where would Starsky go? The Rose Tree Unit was shaped like a
donut; the main elevators opening onto a small waiting area directly in the
center, with the ward clerk's desk to one side, and the nurses's station on the
other. Medical staff conference rooms and med rooms were situated behind, with
therapy and exam rooms on the opposite end behind the elevators. The patient
rooms marched down each corridor connecting at one end with the solarium, and on
the other with a wide view of the ocean. There was a flight of stairs to upper
and lower floors at each end to comply with fire laws. The eastern end of the
middle bank of rooms housed space for supplies, treatment, cooking and visiting.
Many of those had two doors giving easy access to both sides of the wing and
there was one connecting hallway that stretched between. But after considering
and rejecting most of the available options, Hutch headed straight for the place
that called to his heart rather than his head; the location of their last and
most memorable date.
Starsky sat with his back to the door, apparently
watching the night sky through the floor to ceiling windows, and Hutch felt
himself sag with relief. Nothing bad had happened, the errant one was all
unharmed, and only a relatively short distance from his bed.
"God, Starsk!" He grabbed the handles of
the wheelchair and pulled it around, his adrenaline edged fear not thinking
about the consequences. "You scared me to…"
"Death?" Starsky asked remotely.
Hutch recoiled, scrambling back from his partner in
surprise. Starsky was holding his Python, the long barreled pistol looking large
and awkward in the emaciated man's grasp. The gun barrel was resting in his lap,
the weight obviously too heavy for him to heft for long periods, but one finger
was pressed tightly over the trigger, the business end pointed straight up so
that a bullet would rip though his jaw and face.
"What are you doing?" Hutch asked
breathlessly. "Please Starsk…put the gun down."
"Why?" Starsky's voice was composed, his
face devoid of any emotion Hutch could read.
"Because you could hurt yourself." Hutch
mentally scrambled on how to handle the situation. He'd negotiated with a number
of potential suicides in his years as a cop but had no idea how to defuse things
when the victim was his own partner. "We need to talk, but I can't with you
"Why not, Hutch? I've already hurt myself. I
just want to stop hurting."
"So you stole my gun?" He needed to find
the call button and summon support but he was afraid to take his eyes off
Starsky. He felt cut off from the rest of the hospital, hoping that
someone--anyone--would eventually come looking for them before it was too late.
"I knew this is the only way I could get you to
come," Starsky said, and Hutch could see the utter weariness evident in
every line of his body. Starsky looked spent, the sharp lines of his gaunt face
etched with fatigue and pain. "So I waited."
"To do it in front of me?" Hutch cried,
appalled. "Starsky, this is suicide!"
"I wasn't going to…" The dark blue eyes
filled with tears, but he blinked them away, his back stiffening with
determination. "Hutch, I don't want to live like this anymore--not with all
this shit in my body."
"So you're just giving up? Choosing death?"
"No, I'm choosing to live a life I know will
end, just like everybody else's."
"You won't live very long if you pull that
trigger," Hutch said harshly, barely able to breathe.
Starsky's finger eased off the trigger, but he kept
possession of the weapon. "I have an ultimatum."
"I want to stop the chemo--today. No more chemo,
"Then you'll die," Hutch said flatly, his
belly cramped so tightly he was having trouble taking in sufficient amounts of
air. He felt like he was drowning, water closing up over his head.
"I know, but Hutch, that was always going to
happen, don't you see?" The heretofore controlled tears slipped down his
cheeks, but Starsky didn't succumb easily. "I was dyin' every time they
pumped me fulla Cisplatin and Adriamycin, and then everything else to keep me
alive long enough for the next course. It was hell, there wasn't any kinda life
"What's left?" Hutch begged in despair.
"I don't want to die tonight. I don't,"
Starsky promised. He let go of the gun so abruptly it would have slipped right
off his lap if Hutch hadn't lunged and grabbed up the weapon. Hutch dumped the
bullets out and pushed the disarmed gun far across the linoleum where it landed
under the table.
"I want to live out what time there is with you.
Not so sick I can't even bear t'be in my own skin."
"Oh, God, Starsk." Hutch knelt down to his
level, wrapped his arms around Starsky's thighs and clung to him.
"Hutch, I know you're scared but I can't do this
"I just wanted you to get better, to go into
remission. I wanted you safe. The chemo was supposed to be the cure."
"Maybe it's a cure for some people, but I don't
think it's the cure for me." Starsky bracketed Hutch's face with his hands.
"You can't make this better."
"Then what can I do?"
"Just be you, and accept what I ask,"
Starsky whispered. "That's what I need."
"I'll do anything--but maybe there's some new
treatment out there? In Europe? I've been reading…"
"You remember tellin' me about that death and
dyin' crap? The five stages?"
"Saw a program on PBS 'bout her." Starsky
rubbed his thumbs in concentric circles through Hutch's hair, just above his
ears. "Acceptance is one of 'em. Hutch, I never wanted any of this."
He hiccuped which turned into a cough, but the spasm didn't last long.
"I've been angry, fighting, depressed…and everywhere in between, but I
ain't tried acceptance yet. I think it's time."
Neither spoke. Hutch sat numbly, wondering if the
only reason his head didn't split in half was because Starsky was holding the
two sides together.
Out in the hall they could hear a commotion, Ginger's
increasingly frantic voice describing her search to someone else, concluding
with, "Ken said he'd hit the call button, but he didn't. This is the last
place to look…oh." She trailed off, seeing the two men in the solarium.
Two other nurses ran smack into her back, exclaiming in surprise.
"He found me," Starsky said simply, taking
Hutch didn't move until Starsky stopped stroking his
temples. Then he slowly got to his feet, holding onto the wheelchair for
support, Starsky's closeness the only thing he could handle right then.
"Is Dr. Davies in house?" Starsky asked
"He is," the charge nurse said.
"Call him. Hutch'll get me back to my
"Starsky, you could work on your timing."
John Davies strode in, his lab coat flapping. Despite the hour he was nicely
dressed in a button down shirt and pleated slacks, not comfy scrubs like some of
the other doctors wore at night. "It's after midnight. I was planning to
schedule a conference with you both in the morning."
"About?" Starsky asked, now back in bed.
"The chemo hasn't been as effective as I'd
hoped," Davies began.
"You mean it isn't working," Starsky stated
bluntly, glancing over at the still stricken Hutch. He really did regret the
drastic measures he'd used to get his lover's attention but he felt so
inordinately lightened, as if the poison from all the drugs was already flushed
from his bloodstream.
"More or less, yes."
"What are our other options?" Hutch asked
hopelessly, slumped on his rumpled cot.
"There aren't any right now," Davies said
"So no more chemo," Starsky determined.
"I'd still like to finish the course. It could
slow the growth of any future tumors…"
"No, that's what I wanted to tell you."
Starsky tilted his head to look the tall man directly in the eye. "No more,
ever. I'm dropping out of this now."
"Medically, I don't advise that," Davies
"He pretty much already decided," Hutch
spoke up. "Stubborn."
"You do have that right," the doctor
conceded. "But Starsky, can I ask you why? What changed your mind?"
Turning towards Hutch, still a little guilty at his
ruthless tromping on his partner's emotions, Starsky explained. "I never
wanted to start the second time, but I did it for Hutch."
On the smaller bed Hutch inhaled noisily, but didn't
say a word.
"But it was only takin' me away from him. I
wasn't living anymore, I was just existing. Now, before I die, I want to live
for real. No puking, no vital signs every minute and a half. I want to go home,
Sitting down in the unused wheelchair, John steepled
his fingers pensively, "You'd have to sign some against medical advice
papers, for legal reasons."
"Did you ever make out a living will?"
"Not formally." Starsky looked over at
Hutch again, his energy level dropping fast. He was so tired, and starting to
regret how much he hurt the man he loved. Would he be able mend the wounds, or
would Hutch resent his decision too much to forgive him? "We talked about
it. No ventilator when it gets really bad. I don't want to linger."
"I'd strongly advise you to make one up--and
maybe even sign a DNR."
"What's that?" Starsky lay back on the
pillow because even talking was sapping his strength.
"Do not resuscitate," Davies explained
quietly. "It's basically the same thing as a living will, but some doctors
prefer that one over the other."
"God," Hutch whispered.
"So after that, when can I go home?"
"You're still on IV antibiotics, and your
platelets are in the toilet, Starsky. I won't beat around the bush, as sick as
you are right now, I am not comfortable with you going home."
"When?" Starsky pressed, ready to walk out
that door tonight.
"When your blood levels rise, when you've gained
some weight." Davies frowned, obviously unhappy with his patient's turn of
events. "When I say you can."
"That's not fair…!"
"Starsky," Hutch said sharply, turning
blazing eyes on him. Starsky gulped, recognizing Hutch's ire. "He's the
doctor here. You won your victory, so listen to what he has to say. No way would
I take you home in this condition, you're weak, and I'M. NOT. READY."
"Starsky, get some rest, we can talk more in the
morning, hammer out the details," Davies said carefully, taking his leave.
"Are you satisfied?" Hutch snarled.
"I…?" Starsky started, confused. He just
wanted Hutch to understand his reasons, his need to live a life that wasn't
bound by drugs, needles, and doctor's rules.
"Starsky, I'm so scared right now. How do I cope
with this? What happens now?"
"I don't know," he admitted, spent. "I
think we gotta make it up as we go along, This is all new territory for
me." Starsky shivered, the last few hours taking their toll. "Come
Hutch approached the bed warily, his face a picture
of sorrow and disorientation. He stood two feet away, not completely committing
himself to anything.
"Get in?" Starsky offered, still shivering,
really cold now. He truly didn't know how he would cope if Hutch didn't
surrender. He held up the sheet in invitation. Very slowly Hutch bent down, then
crawled into the narrow space. Starsky moved back a little until his spine was
pressed up against the safety railing, but he didn't care in the slightest.
Hutch curled, as much as a man his size could in that amount of space, putting
his cheek on Starsky's shoulder. "Are we still friends?" Starsky asked
"Aw, Starsk," Hutch said, crying openly.
"How can you even ask? You just threw me for a loop. I didn't have any idea…"
"No?" Starsky gently kissed one tear
stained eyelid and then the other. "None at all?"
"Maybe a little, but I just wanted to believe in
"This is the miracle, Hutch," Starsky
assured him. "Us, we're together, and that's always been the only one for
"Hang on!" Katie advised, pressing the
button for the sling that hoisted Starsky up off his bed and calculated his
weight. He hated the thing; it always made his already dicey stomach even
queasier, although today wasn't as bad as previous days because he was off chemo
"What's the verdict?" Starsky asked when he
was safely back on lumpy mattress and not swinging in the air like a flying
"Well," Katie grimaced, writing down the
number in her notes. "You've got a ways to go before you get to Dr. Davies'
magic number of 120 pounds."
"I don't see what's so magic about it--he's just
setting down draconian rules to keep me here," he grumped. "Will you
tell me, for crying out loud?"
"108," Katie announced
"One hundred," Starsky repeated aghast.
"And eight? Where'd it all go?" He really should have been paying more
attention on weigh-in days, but most of the time he was just trying to ignore
the nurses' interruptions.
"Remember you lost about 15 pounds after your
"Oh." He hadn't looked at it that way.
Besides, there were some days that he felt the phantom leg so strongly that he
was sure he could reach down and feel flesh below the thigh. His calf was so there,
so evident he often forgot for long stretches of time that it was gone.
Especially on days like this when it ached, sometimes cramping up until he tried
to curl his invisible toes up to relieve the pain.
"Got a long ways to go," Starsky echoed
Katie's original statement, wondering how much food would make up the difference
between 108 pounds and 120.
"Does that inspire you to eat some of this yummy
breakfast Enrique just delivered?" She poised her hands over the tray a la
Carol Merrill presenting a prize on 'Let's Make a Deal'. "Banana, corn
flakes, milk, toast, and juice. Very nutritious."
"Make you a deal." Katie winked
conspiratorially and Starsky was cheered to no end by her blatant attempt.
"Doctors gave us a couple of dozen this morning because we're sweet."
She wrinkled her nose, sticking out her tongue. "So, eat this up, and you
can have dessert."
"I always go by that saying 'Life is uncertain,
eat dessert first'."
"I prefer 'Life's a bitch and then you
die'." She grinned, tidying away the blood pressure cuff and wrapping the
stethoscope around her neck. Enrique had wheeled the weight sling out on a
"I gotta shirt with that one!" Starsky
laughed. Nurses always had the blackest humor. Hutch had gone off to work this
morning, still shaky from last Friday's events, his eyes dreading that Starsky
might expire at any moment. Starsky just knew the morbid saying on the shirt was
exactly the right outfit for the day to shake his partner out of the fear.
"Then eat your breakfast and you can wear it
while you have a donut," Katie trounced him, her youthful looks belaying a
"Yes, ma'am," he sighed, pouring milk over
the corn flakes. His tummy was still leery of most foods, but the perennial
cereal was bland enough. The actual evidence of how much weight he'd lost was
sobering--nearly fifty pounds since prediagnosis. At least he had a goal for the
He felt like he was going to Weight Watchers, only in
reverse. Weight Gainers Anonymous. How much corn flakes did a person have to eat
to gain even half that weight back? And why did it matter when he was eventually
going to die anyway? As much as he was inordinately relieved that there would be
no more of the horrible Cisplatin and its terrible twin, Adriamycin, the future
was a cloudy, scary thing. How long would he live? What would death be like?
Even though he'd gone halfway down that road once before, Starsky had been
unconscious at the time, so he had little, if any, memories of dying. This time
would be different, and while he was trying to accept it, he wasn't sure he was
all the way there yet. What was that saying he'd seen on a bumper sticker just
before his last hospital admission? 'Life is a work in progress'.
Katie appeared only a short time later, helped him
wash and change, and presented him with a chocolate donut sprinkled liberally
with pink and red jimmies. An early Valentine assortment, no doubt, Starsky
mused, taking tiny bites. He'd wanted the donut, but after a small bowl of
cereal and most of the glass of orange juice he was no longer hungry. This
gaining weight thing was going to be harder than he'd expected, especially
because eight days after chemo he was just as likely to lose what was in his
stomach as keep it.
Pulling the covers up to his chin, Starsky stared
sightlessly out at the gray morning sky through a slit in the window curtains.
Had he done the right thing? As elated as he was to be rid of the nastiness of
chemo, he was still stuck in the hospital for the foreseeable future--and then
there was Hutch. The look in Hutch's eyes when he'd left for work had haunted
Starsky. What had he done to his best friend? Hutch had basically clung to him
both Saturday and Sunday, leaving his side only once when Daisy came in with the
new shirt. And after she'd heard his decision to stop the chemo, she'd wanted to
take the belated gift back. Hutch returned after Daisy left, his blue eyes
rimmed with red. Starsky couldn't shake the feeling that he needed to do
something to spare his lover further pain, but he didn't know what.
"David? May I come in?'
Rousing himself from a half daydream, half nap,
Starsky rubbed his eyes, nodding. "I haven't seen you in a while, Saiisa."
"I was on a vacation--to see my relatives in
"They got lions there?"
Saiisa Borunda laughed, taking a seat by the bed.
"Yes, although not downtown in Abuja where I was. I did take a drive out to
see some gazelles."
"That must be an amazing sight."
"They are such swift beings, running across the
grass. It is a beautiful thing to see them so wild and free," she agreed,
folding her hands in her brightly colored lap, exuding elegant serenity, as
Starsky always enjoyed seeing what Saiisa wore; her
clothing an ever-changing array of color and pattern. Today she was dressed in
an ethnic styled dress of gold and green patterned with maps of Nigeria in brown
and ochre. The turban that twisted around her proud head was of the same fabric.
"Did you get that outfit there?"
"My grandmother made it for me," Saiisa
said proudly. "You have on a rather spectacular outfit yourself." She
raised her eyebrows at the T-shirt's sentiments. "So, what has been going
on while I was gone? I heard you caused some commotion, made some hard
"Yeah," Starsky sighed, all the guilt
washing back over him full force. He explained what had happened in a quick
monologue, concluding with, "I--couldn't do it any longer, you know? The
chemo and all the drugs weren't helping. But Hutch…"
"Hutch doesn't accept your decision?"
"This hurt him bad." He shook his head.
"I hurt him."
"You didn't. What has happened has, and Hutch
has to sort through his own emotions as carefully as you did." Saiisa took
his hand, pale and almost transparent next to her chocolately coffee color.
"You didn't just wake up on Friday and decide to stop the chemo, did
"No, I'd been thinking about it for a long
time," Starsky admitted.
"You understood the risks, but you decided
anyway--which is your right," she said positively. "Hutch may be a
little hurt that you didn't confide in him ahead of time…"
"I kind of hit him over the head, huh?"
Starsky asked ruefully, remembering the weight and solidity of the Python in his
hand. Strangely, just holding something of Hutch's had made him feel so safe and
protected while he was waiting for his partner to come find him. He'd never
meant to pull the trigger, but the desire to end it had been real. And when he'd
slipped his finger into that little curve of metal that fired the weapon he'd
almost been seduced by how easy it would be just to do the deed. But then he'd
thought about Hutch, his beautiful blond, and what it would do to leave him so
unprepared for the death. So, Starsky had bided his time until his shining one
had arrived. Now, days later, he wondered if there was something he could have
done differently. No, he knew there were things he could have done better, but
he'd been so out of control, so scared of continuing down a road he believed to
be fruitless, that he'd let momentum carry him forward. Hutch hadn't found a
dead body. Instead, he'd been stunned by the revelations, and was still
recovering from the shock.
"Give Hutch the time to come to terms with
this," Saiisa advised. "Everyone has to grieve in their own manner,
but the love you share will guide the way. He'll cope, in time. Until then you
can give him unconditional support in the way you have always done."
"That's not hard to do." Starsky grimaced,
not sure which was more annoying, the phantom cramp in his leg that was so real
he could feel the balled up muscle, or the queasiness in his stomach since the
"Would you like anything? A cup of peppermint
"You got a ghost masseuse who can rub a leg that
"Ah, Nettle tea helps body aches. I'll brew up a
pot." Saiisa stood decisively, her brown and gold skirts rustling in her
wake. "Won't be a moment."
"Wasn't going anywhere," Starsky shrugged,
his mind mostly on Hutch and how Hutch was doing right then, alone for the first
time in days.
Hutch had such a hard time focusing on his cadets he
finally tossed out the touchy subject of suspect profiling to the class at
large, and sat back numbly listening to them bat the discussion around. He put
in two words during the whole thing, but none of them seemed to take notice. One
particularly vocal African American man had such strong views he got most of the
class on his side by the time they had to file out for target practice. Hutch
sighed in relief, unsure how he was going to get through the rest of the day on
three hours of sleep and the certain knowledge that Starsky was going to die,
and possibly soon. He'd been unable to close his eyes each night, even though he
could hear Starsky breathing in the next bed. Every time he allowed himself to
relax and fall asleep, he'd awaken in terror, sure that Starsky had died in the
Back in the security of his tiny Academy office, he
grimaced at the pile of papers waiting to be graded, and found himself staring,
instead, at the MCAT book. Until recently, the book had been a never-ending
source of comfort--a representative of medical science, and the power it held.
Now he wasn't even sure why he was carrying the tome around anymore except that
he'd become accustomed to studying during his lunch break.
Well, no longer. He was disillusioned by the panacea
of medicine. He'd so wanted to believe that Starsky could be cured that he'd
blinded himself to how serious osteosarcoma could be. Others had survived the
disease, why not his lover? Deep down in his heart he despaired that the chemo
hadn't worked, but he still wanted Starsky to continue--to give him a chance,
right? Or was it just to give Hutch more time? Time he no longer had. Because
Starsky was rejecting what medicine had to offer for a more holistic,
surprisingly life-affirming attitude. Once upon a time, Hutch would have
applauded Starsky's alternative views, when they hadn't meant his ultimate
He lowered his aching head onto his folded arms,
ironically right on top of the MCAT book. So it was still to be his support in
stressful times. And as much as Hutch wanted to turn away from medicine which
had so thoroughly failed them both, he couldn't. Somewhere in the midst of this
he'd heard a faint but audible calling. Ken Hutchinson could make a difference
in medicine--perhaps even pave new avenues in the field of cancer medicines and
alternative treatments. Starsky had shown him the way and would be his support,
more than any old thick paperback book. Medical school would be hard, but he'd
start out with Starsky's blessing--the terrible thought that he might graduate
without Starsky cheering him from the audience clenched Hutch's belly. What
would the future hold, and could he survive it?
He'd fallen asleep on his pillowed arms, because when
the phone right next to his ear blared raucously he jerked up in surprise,
momentarily unable to use his still numb hands. Waggling his fingers to rid them
of pins and needles, Hutch fumbled with the receiver, tucking it between his
chin and shoulder. "Ken Hutchinson speaking."
"You fall asleep on your desk again?"
Starsky asked lightly, but Hutch could hear a nervousness in his voice.
"Hard to get any work done this morning,"
"I'm feeling really hopeless here, Starsk. I
can't see any good coming from this." Hutch despaired. "You're going
"Well, unless the Big One hits today,"
Starsky's emphasis capitalized the words. "I'm sticking around for a while.
Hutch, I had to let go in order to live. I needed to feel good now, while I can,
instead of puking up my guts every morning…that was hell, and it wasn't going
to stop the inevitable." He took a deep, steadying breath, rushing the next
bit as if tacking it on for Hutch's sake. "I ate breakfast today--cereal,
donut, all of it…gonna gain weight, Hutch, grow my hair back, you'll see.
It'll be all right."
"You ate breakfast?" Hutch repeated,
wanting desperately to hang onto something good. It had been a while since
Starsky had eaten much of anything, period, although his appetite had begun to
improve over the weekend.
"Knew you'd approve of that," Starsky
answered smugly. "Wearing my new shirt, too. Must be my day for old
sayings, I tried that one 'Eat dessert first' on Katie, but she didn't
"Maybe I can get a buncha t-shirts--one for
every day of the week. What d'you think about 'Die young and leave a beautiful
Even Hutch managed to chuckle at that macabre humor,
clearing his throat of the tears that hid there. "You're pushing forty, old
man, not all that young."
"I'll be forty," Starsky said in
wonderment. "We'll have t'have a big ol' party." He paused, then
continued ruefully. "Not all that beautiful, either."
"You are to me," Hutch replied honestly,
emotions crowding his soul until one more would surely rip him to shreds. This
wasn't fair! It wasn't right, but it was truth, and reality, and stark, pure
survival. Starsky had acted on instinct, doing what he needed to do to survive,
and Hutch could only follow suit.
"I wasn't fishing for a compliment."
"I know, I still meant it."
Starsky swallowed audibly and Hutch clutched the
phone, seeing that beloved face in his mind's eye. "I'm sorry, Hutch."
"I'm sorry, too." Hutch gulped, feeling
Starsky's strength of will buoying him up. "Now, let's get on with the rest
of our lives, and forget that phrase ever existed," he declared as
forthright as it was possible to be, under the circumstances. It would take
time, for both of them, but they'd find their support and commitment from each
"Do you still have that list of dates for the
"It's somewhere in the mess of papers in my
Hutch smiled, just a little one, but it was the first
one of the last four days. Starsky had a large blue plastic storage bin in his
hospital room for all the books, magazines and correspondence that had
accumulated since he'd taken up residence at St. Joe's. For all Starsky's
tidiness at home, he was just the opposite with papers and filing. Hutch had no
doubt that Starsky could find the registration forms without any problem, but
anyone else would be sorting through get-well cards and old crosswords for a
"Then fill it out for me, Homer, 'cause I want
to send it out before the deadline."
"That's my boy." Starsky's voice was full
of smiles. "Can you bring me a pizza?"
"Sausage'll give you heartburn, and pepperoni's
been known to do worse."
"Not true. It's…" Starsky paused,
obviously weighing his options. "Mushrooms and olives then, with extra
"That'll be 12.95 and a tip," Hutch teased,
lighthearted and happy.
"Will you take a kiss?"
"From you, several, and we'll call it
With the return of his appetite, Starsky also gained
stamina and his old joie de vive. His immune system and platelet count were
still dangerously low and he'd been unable to shake a persistent bacteria that
left him with a vague but annoying cough, and the need for IV antibiotics.
Despite these limitations, he still wanted to be up and around as often as
possible, and took to cruising the halls, first in the wheelchair, but quickly
graduating to Canadian crutches, which helped immensely to bolster his
self-confidence and upper body strength. The nurses were continually having to
hunt him down for his meds and therapy because Starsky made friends with
everyone on the unit from the oldest, sickest patient to the youngest and most
frightened. As Hutch had predicted early on, Starsky got on famously with the
Colonel, listening to the old man's war stories with obvious interest, and
joining in with a few lurid tales of cop life. Nobody was at all surprised how
easily Starsky slipped between the generations; he'd always been a gregarious,
fun loving person. And now with his newfound freedom, he exploited every
opportunity to rejoin the world, even if it was only in the confines of the Rose
Tree Unit. He loved going over to the children's playroom and joining in the
games. The hospital had purchased a portable Donkey Kong game, and there were
tournaments nearly every afternoon. Starsky gained quite a reputation with two
teenaged boys, since he not only shared their interests, but also their cancer
Getting out more also helped with the loneliness,
since Hutch was in charge of an investigation into a drug ring that had
ironically come to the attention of the police after his search of Vinnie
Schroeder's basement cache. Big time criminals, some of whom Schroeder had named
in his plea bargain, were involved and Hutch was out for blood. They might not
be Schroeder himself, but it was still a victory for the department. Starsky
completely understood his partner's need to be involved in the case, but it also
meant that Hutch was working long hours just when Starsky was feeling better and
getting back into the swing of things. It was frustrating, and a bit scary to
think of him out on stakeout, possibly in danger, even though Hutch assured
Starsky that because he was the lead detective, he was not in the line of fire.
He was, however, gone many nights in a row, and no matter how much Huggy, Daisy,
Minnie Kaplan, and a host of other friends tried to divert him, Starsky still
missed his number one fan.
Thus, it was that Starsky woke one night very late,
thinking that some new nurse was making a hell of a lot of noise, and found his
blond standing over the bed just watching him.
"Hey," Starsky said sleepily. "You
make the bust?"
"We did indeed." Hutch ran the back of his
finger down Starsky's cheek. "You're getting some peach fuzz."
"Yeah," he agreed. The hair was slowly
growing back again, since it had over two weeks since he'd had chemo. Just a few
wisps so far, but his hair had proven to be amazingly resilient.
"Siddown and tell me all about it," Starsky
waggled his eyebrows like Groucho Marx proposing the secret word. He pushed
himself up in the bed, leaning back on the plethora of pillows behind him, a
random cough escaping before he could prevent it.
"Carmen de la Rosa and Mike Hennessey had joined
forces on the West side to corner the market--producing crack like it was sugar
rock candy and selling it to all and comers. We had a couple of really young
looking African American guys undercover there, they made some contacts, turned
out to be easier than anyone could have expected," Hutch summarized,
"Must be more to it than that," Starsky
guessed, watching his lover shrewdly.
"Details, Starsk, just the usual politics and rigmarole
that I don't want to get into right now," Hutch sighed. "The kind of
stuff I want to leave behind. Didn't see hide nor hair of Schroeder, end of
story. But hey, I mailed the MCAT forms in, and we should know when the testing
date is in a month or so."
"Good." Starsky nodded with satisfaction.
"What else is going on in the real world?"
Hutch snorted a laugh at that, going back to stroking
Starsky's cheek and the few strands of hair on his head. "Finally went over
to the house to collect the mail and get some clean clothes. There's a letter
from Nicky for you, and one from my sister Karen--wonder how we rated both
siblings in one week?" He bent forward from the waist, kissing his partner
with a sweetness that wrenched at Starsky's heart. "And I don't know what
kind of food Rosie is feeding Pansy, but that cat is getting fatter by the
"Hmmm, enough about the cat. More on the subject
you introduced to the committee just previously to that, Senator," Starsky
"The finance committee for the war on
drugs?" Hutch asked absently, kissing Starsky on the nose, eyelids, and
both cheeks before going back to his lips.
"No, something more on the line of sex education…"
"Hmm, seems to me you must have already passed
the class." Hutch chuffed a laugh, wiggling when Starsky's hand went
straight for his belt and fly.
"Got an A plus, but I need some remedial extra
credit 'cause it's been a long time," Starsky answered, going after his
prize despite the constant interruption from Hutch's kisses. "Been missing
"I'm here now." Hutch sat back, watching
Starsky's deliberations. "Need any help?"
"Nope, I know my way around men's
underwear." Starsky smiled triumphantly, slipping his hand inside the slit
of Hutch's boxers. "Seems like it's been forever."
"It has." Hutch caught his breath and
closed his eyes in bliss when Starsky curled his fingers around the hardening
length. "I couldn't at the end of January… not right away. I was too
"S'okay, not like anything was happening in this
camp, either." Starsky bit down on his bottom lip, thrilling in the contact
of his palm with Hutch's cock. Now, if only his own plumbing would join in the
fun and games, everything would be perfect. He'd always loved the spontaneity of
their sexual exploits, and cancer had put a severe crimp in that. But this was
perfect--unexpected, joyful, and healing for the both of them. Rubbing his thumb
over the head, Starsky closed his eyes, slipping a hand into his own pajama
bottoms. His cock was definitely interested, but having some difficulties in
"Let me do that," Hutch whispered. "As
long as you keep doing what you are right now."
"It's a deal," Starsky sighed with pleasure
when Hutch slid the pajamas down his hips enough to unveil his penis, and began
lightly stroking the sides. The sensation was electrifying, sending tiny shock
waves of joy up Starsky's spine, and he redoubled his efforts on Hutch's silky
skin. Already, the long shaft had swelled to capacity and throbbed with a steady
pulse that Starsky found comforting and exciting all at the same time. He could
feel the sticky wetness leaking from the tip, and used the fluid to slide his
fingers under the foreskin and circle the head once, then twice. Hutch
shuddered, clamping his mouth shut to stifle a cry and came, the intensity of
the action commuting down his arm to his hand. Starsky froze when those fingers
compressed around his penis, but the action only made him increase in size,
bursting out of both ends of Hutch's fist like a sausage in a too small casing.
It felt fantastic, magical, and he thrust into the warmth of that grasp, his
completion following Hutch's by only a few moments.
"Think we woke anybody?" Starsky giggled
weakly, a tickle of a cough irritating the back of his throat. It always
happened when he exerted himself in any way. Damned inconvenient.
"Nobody came in with a code cart." Hutch
nuzzled the side of his neck.
"Nah, this kind of thing gets my heart going
without a single zap from the defibrillator." Starsky petted Hutch's long
blond hair, working his fingers through it as if he could weave it into cloth.
"You ever listen to the radio an' your favorite song seems to last on a
second or two, and you wish it would play twice, but some crappy song you hate
seems to take about half an hour to finish?"
"That's how it is in here some days,
Hutch." Starsky leaned into the other man's warmth, forcibly clearing his
throat, but the cough still burst forth with a harsh sound. "When you're
here it's okay, but the rest of the time…"
"I'm sorry, baby."
"I'm not complaining to make you feel guilty, or
anything. Just statin' the facts."
"Just the facts, sir."
Starsky elbowed Hutch in the ribs with a giggle, but
another cough interrupted and he lay back, breathing raggedly, the spasm harsh
enough to make his chest ache.
"Still fighting that last infection, huh?"
Hutch rubbed his chest in sympathy.
"Doctors can't seem to tell if this is the same
old one that won't leave, or a new one." Starsky sighed. "I'm not
getting any sicker, but they have to keep switching antibiotics 'cause it's not
going away, and John thinks a virus came in on the coattails and it's mixing
"Antibiotics don't fight viruses, only
bacteria," Hutch agreed.
"See, I never knew that 'til John told me.
You'll ace those MCAT tests," Starsky said positively. "My Hutch, the
"My Starsky, the optimist."
"S'what got me through, imagining you sitting
there on stake-out without backup--without me." Starsky ducked his head
down, the fear that had kept him awake several nights in a row back full force.
He despaired of not being there for his partner during the investigation,
fearful that even with Hutch in the background a stray bullet could still find
"Starsk, you know I had backup, I wasn't
"Were any shots fired?"
"A couple, for a minute or two," Hutch
"Anyone get hit?"
"No," Hutch replied tightly, obviously
unwilling to talk about it but still curious as to why Starsky was being so
insistent. "What are you so worried about?"
"What if you got shot?" Starsky asked, the
stark pain and fear as real as if it had already happened. How could he go on
without his rock? "What if you died?" His voice broke on the last
word, and he would have sobbed outright, but instead pushed a hand into his
mouth, using it like a dam for his emotions.
"Starsky!" Hutch looked astonished, and
completely flummoxed. "Sweet boy, I didn't even come close to the
action." He reached out, stroking Starsky's cheek again and easing the
balled fist out to cradle it between his palms. "I'm not going to
"I kept seeing you lying there, bleeding…like
you always said I was, against the Torino, curled over."
"I promised not to go out by myself, and I stand
by that vow," Hutch murmured, curling Starsky in towards his chest. Placing
his hand over the healed bullet wound on Hutch's upper left shoulder, Starsky
could feel the heart beating steadily under the cage of ribs and skin, and
willed his own heart into a matching beat. "And I was driving an old Buick.
The Torino was nowhere in sight."
"You went against Gunther by yourself."
The statement hung in the suddenly heavy air like a
grenade with the pin pulled free. "T-that was…different," Hutch
whispered thickly. "W-why'd you bring that up?"
"Cause we do for each other." Starsky
closed his eyes, his ear to Hutch's broad chest, listening to the comforting lub
dub of the valiant pump, his fear retreating. "What stopped you, huh?"
"Stopped me from what?"
"Huggy told me," Starsky said simply.
"The first night you were on stake out, I wasn't feelin' too hot. Guess I
did too much during the day, and sure paid the price. When Huggy came over, I
wanted a diversion to get my mind off stuff, and we started talking. I dunno how
it came up but he told me about the days after the shooting, when I was out of
"Why?" Hutch sounded scared in a way
Starsky had never heard before.
"Because he said you had that look again. You
hide it, but it's there." Starsky didn't even want to look up at his
lover's face, but he could hear the effect he was having on Hutch. The heart he
so treasured had picked up speed, pounding twice as fast as only a moment ago.
"And that he thought, if I died, you'd go out and destroy something...
cause 'a me." When Hutch didn't answer Starsky continued, smashing down all
the walls surrounding those taboo subjects they weren't supposed to discuss. His
death was number one, right at the top. The thing was, he had died, for almost
ten minutes according to Huggy, and yet returned, like a phoenix from the ashes,
only to be facing death from a different source. Internal instead of external
menace. "But you didn't. Gunther went to trial. So how'd you do it, Hutch?
I woulda shot him where he sat if the tables'd been turned."
"Oh, God," Hutch said, and it sounded like
a prayer, a supplication for strength. "You don't know how hard it was to
handcuff that bastard and bring him in. The S.F. cops were right outside the
door, I hadn't gone in completely alone, but I needed that moment to look into
his eyes and try to understand, try to know why he took you away from me."
"I didn't go away," Starsky whispered, as
shaken as he had been when Huggy told him of Hutch's terrifying obsession with
"I was so afraid, Starsk. You were hooked up to
all the machines and there wasn't anything I could do. And the one thing…"
Hutch grit his teeth, the words like knife wounds. "The one thing I wanted
to do wasn't legal, and I was a cop. I think most of all, that's why I don't
want to be a cop anymore. Because if you die…I want to be a doctor, one who
can fight cancer and stop it from killing somebody else."
"Amen," Starsky said softly, pushing back
Hutch's shirt so he could kiss the old shoulder scar that had pillowed his head.
Hutch rushed down the corridor of the hospital,
afraid he was too late, but the bustle of activity at the door to the auditorium
proved that the presentation had not yet begun. Slowing his speed, he took a
deep breath, swiping his longish bangs off his forehead. The weather had heated
up considerably and it was a sticky, muggy day for February. Rumors of Schroeder
sightings had surfaced late the day before and Hutch had spent most of the
morning with his task force going over strategies. He'd even handed his Academy
class over to a teacher's aid to get more time in on building the case.
Apparently, in the week since the round up of De La Rosa and Hennessey, their
absence had put a big hole in the drug supply. Speculation on the street was
that Schroeder was going to attempt a come back despite the warrants out for his
arrest, and the ongoing efforts by Bay City Supervisor Adrianna Michaelson-Hsieh.
Hutch had already spoken to the supervisor and her husband Cam Yin, vowing to
bring Schroeder to justice. But without a concrete lead he had time to attend
the latest display of limberness from the Bay City Girl's Gymnastics team.
The large room was already crowded with a variety of
spectators--half friends and family of the performers, and the other half
ambulatory patients from the hospital. Many of the people wearing robes and
slippers, some pushing an IV pole beside them, looked excited to get out of
their dreary rooms for half an hour to enjoy the show. A few nurses hovered
around a group of children from the peds ward, but Hutch could easily see over
their heads to that of his partner. Starsky was wearing a surgical mask to
minimize his exposure to germs, which had prompted a long argument with John
Davies, the night before, when the order came down that he had to wear it to
leave the Rose Tree Unit. Obviously Davies had won. But Hutch smiled to see
Starsky in his element--noise, gaiety, and lots of friends and children of all
ages. Starsky's blue eyes glowed over the edge of the pale blue paper mask, his
curls were coming back in a wiry tangle, and he'd put on another couple of
pounds, unless Hutch was very much mistaken. Starsky looked like he was
recovering, coming back from a long illness, which was ironic since he was far
Still, Hutch was determined not to ruin his lover's
first foray into the real world. He waved a long arm, catching Starsky's
attention. He navigated through the crowd to join Starsky and Edith Dobey, who
was fussing with an oversized boombox and an assortment of cassette tapes.
"Hutch!" Starsky called, his voice only
slightly muffled by the paper covering. "Edith said they collected enough
money for everyone to go to the nationals in Washington, and today will be the
first show with the new routines." He gestured at the girls warming up on
the mats laid out in front of all the chairs. Rosie saw Hutch and dimpled before
spreading her legs and sliding down into the splits. "They leave in late
spring--March 27th, right after my birthday," Starsky chattered.
"How'd you like that?"
"Wonderful," Hutch agreed, who'd given a
substantial donation to the cause. "Those new leotards look nice," he
said, admiring the matching outfits, green with a pink diagonal stripe and a
small team logo just above the right leg.
"Aria designed them. She seems to have a real
flair." Edith nodded. "I've got to round up the girls for the opening
routine. Rainbow is having her usual stage fright, already vomited once. Looks
"After performing for so long?" Starsky
asked sympathetically. "Hutch gets stage fright, too. Hey, why don't you go
give her a patented Hutchinson pep talk?"
"Oh, that's all right, she'll survive. It's
probably because her mother couldn't make it today," Edith assured.
"I'll do it," Hutch said. He'd have done
anything right then to keep that happy glow on Starsky's face. The
characteristic, lop-sided grin was covered, but Hutch knew it was there.
Rainbow did indeed look terrible. She was sitting on
the floor with her legs spread, apathetically going through the motions of
stretching. Even her Shirley Temple curls were droopy. Hutch was vaguely
reminded of Starsky on a day after chemo, and pushed that dismal thought away.
He remembered Rainbow had lost her lunch on Mickey Mouse's shoes in Disneyland,
and decided to stay away from that memory as well. "Hey, sweetheart,
worrying about the performance?"
"My tummy always feels like a washing machine
going full blast before a competition," Rainbow admitted sorrowfully.
"Today it's worse than ever."
"I've had more than a few butterflies myself
whenever Starsky convinces me to get up in front of a crowd and sing."
Hutch commiserated. "Anyone ever tell you the secret of pretending the
entire audience is sitting around watching you in their underwear?"
Rainbow giggled faintly, bright discs of red
blossoming in her sallow cheeks. "That's funny. What kind of underwear does
Ah, Hutch chuckled to himself, another Starsky fan.
"He sometimes wears shorts with smiley faces on them."
This started a gale of laughter from Rainbow. The
other girls who'd come over to collect their comrade for the show heard the tail
end of Hutch's comment and started to laugh, too.
"So does my older brother!" Rosie crowed.
"I gave 'em to him for Christmas."
"Cal wears boxer shorts?" Samantha Goldwyn
asked in a tone that proved to Hutch she'd shifted her crush from Starsky onto
Cal Dobey. Still an older man to the 14 year old, but probably a better choice,
since Starsky was already taken.
"Get into formation, girls!" Edith called,
pressing down on the cassette recorder's play button. The bouncy music of one of
Madonna's top forty hits began and the girls scooped up long wands topped with
colorful ribbons, launching into their first number.
Hutch sat down next to Starsky, his left leg pressed
up against Starsky's right one. They'd always sat closely together, even before
they became a couple, but now every time Hutch did so he cherished the warmth
and solidity that was his best friend. He truly couldn't fathom life without
"Whatever you said to her, she's doin' fine
now," Starsky whispered.
"Told her your underwear had smiley faces,"
Hutch said innocently, pretending to focus on the girls but watching Starsky out
of the corner of his eye. Starsky's eyebrows shot upwards, his expression one of
disbelief and amazement. Hutch couldn't help himself, it felt good to be able to
rib Starsky like the old days. Maybe he'd come around to accepting Starsky's
"So what're you wearing under those khakis, Mr.
Clean?" Starsky snarked under his breath, moving his hand just enough that
it 'accidentally' brushed Hutch's fly and the mound underneath.
"Starsk," Hutch hissed, his cheeks burning.
"Pay attention to the show."
Starsky's dark blue eyes were like shining bulbs
above the mask, laugh lines crinkling them into a web of joyfulness. He'd gotten
Hutch back by invoking the oldest trick in the book, just to embarrass him. And
Hutch reflected ruefully that it worked just about every time.
The girls put on a fantastic show, following up their
ensemble piece with individual floor routines just like the last time Hutch had
watched them at Disneyland. Kristianne, always the shyest of the bunch, had
gained some confidence in the last few months and performed an astonishing dance
across the floor that had her in the air more often than on the ground. Rosie
Dobey was just exceptional, all of her moves graceful, precise and perfectly
balanced. She never wavered, never tripped, tumbling through her moves with a
smile that shone brighter than stars. This girl was going to go far.
Once the applause had died down and everyone was
congratulated, Hutch accompanied Starsky back upstairs, quite impressed at how
far his partner had come in such a short time. This was not the man who couldn't
even sit unassisted at the end of January. Starsky played with the elevator
buttons, tapping his crutch against the floorboards, radiating unfocused
restlessness. But there were moments, every now and then, when Hutch saw the
sadness behind the façade. Starsky was trying to live everything to the
fullest, to store up what time he had left, and neither of them knew how long
that might be.
"Oh, Hutch!" Calliope, the ward clerk, had
changed so dramatically Hutch barely recognized her, and he'd seen her the day
before. Gone were the punk rock trappings, replaced by short-sleeved pink
sweater above a pink and white mini skirt. Her short hair was fluffed out in a
vaguely poodle-like do, still showing vestiges of the various colors she'd dyed
it all winter, but now more blond than green and orange.
"Calliope." Hutch stopped in shock, then
gave an astute guess. "New boyfriend?"
"Yeah." she grinned at him, fiddling with
dangly silver earrings. "How'd you know?"
"He's psychic," Starsky said
"Wow, like that's so cool. Anyway, your Captain
Dobey? The big bear kinda guy? He called to say some sort of major police thing
is going on, and where were you?" She held out her hands like a milkmaid
hefting her buckets. "I didn't know you were here. But now you are, so
that's the message."
"How long ago?" Hutch asked, the
performance only last half an hour, and Dobey had known he'd be there.
"I've give him a call back from Starsky's
room," Hutch promised, heading down the hall. "Is it my imagination or
has all that hair dye gone to her brain?"
"She's an original," Starsky settled onto
the bed, closing his eyes with fatigue for a moment before stripping off the
surgical mask. "I hate this, makes me feel like I can't breathe." He
tossed it into the trashcan next to the nightstand. "Calliope's really
pretty smart. She's like going to college to be a pharmacist, but has to make
money to pay her own way. She just sounds goofy."
"Takes one to know one?" Hutch teased
lightly, dialing the station's number.
"You're on a roll today, buddyboy."
"Captain?" Hutch asked when the operator
transferred him to the correct office. "What's going down?"
"The undercovers officers--Cooper and Farnham,
called in. Schroeder is in the city, and staying at the Alhambra Hotel on 38th
Avenue. We're getting a team into position, but you need to be there."
"Of course," Hutch agreed. "On my
way." He ended the connection, giving Starsky the exciting news. "You
okay?" he concluded, still not used to Starsky being up and about for
extended periods of time.
"Yeah, got a nap planned for after lunch, and
then there's the Donkey Kong tournament of champions going on for the rest of
the afternoon. Jeremy Keller's back for his next chemo, but his drip doesn't
start 'til tonight, and he's a powerhouse on wheels until then."
"Have fun with the other kids, Starsky."
Hutch ruffled his curls. "And eat all your veggies at lunch."
"118 pounds this morning, Hutch. John says I'm
out of here at the end of the week!" Starsky crowed.
"I'm holding you to that."
"It's a promise. Just think what we could do
alone in our own house."
"You would mention that right before I have to
"Hey." Starsky caught him by the arm,
pulling him down into kissing range. His lips pressed almost savagely against
Hutch's, the emotion intense. "Be safe, for me. I hate when you're going
out there without me."
"I'll stand behind all the younger guys and wear
a vest. I've got something to look forward to, too." Hutch returned the
kiss with heat, fervently wishing he didn't have to leave so soon, but the
imminent arrest of Schroeder was a powerful motivator.
Just before he crossed the doorframe he heard Starsky
say "Hutch?" in a tiny voice that nearly severed all of Hutch's
"Yeah?" he said carefully, afraid that
anything more would betray how needy he was feeling just then, too.
"Just wanted to say your name again,"
Starsky replied. When Hutch looked back at him, Starsky lifted his chin in a
brave little gesture, but there was no denying the fear reflected there.
"You always have my back, Starsk," Hutch
promised and then he left, almost running out of the hospital as if his haste
could get the whole arrest over sooner so that he could get back to Starsky that
Nothing ever goes as planned. Everything started out
well enough, Hutch's handpicked team ringing the Alhambra, ready for whatever
came down, were confident that the felon would soon be captured. Unfortunately,
word had somehow spread farther than just the police department, and as Hutch
was adjusting his bulletproof vest in the shadow of a building across from the
fated hotel, a startlingly familiar figure strode across the street and entered
the front door of the Alhambra.
"Sarge!" Billy Saeteurn, one of his former
students from the Academy had been assigned the role of street cop walking his
beat. Not exactly a stretch, since it was his usual bailiwick and the locals had
gotten to know him in the short time he'd been around, so he didn't look at all
conspicuous. His older advisor, Mac Smithy, had the hotel side of the street.
"It's the supervisor's husband!"
"What the hell?" Hutch caught sight Cam Yin
Hsieh's back disappearing through the scarred brown door. "He's going to
cock this whole thing up for sure."
"We go in?" Lucy Hazard, one of the few
female marksmen on the force, stood poised for assault, her dark weapon held
like it was an extension of her body.
"I will," Hutch decided swiftly, his gut
clenching. This is when he needed Starsky at his side. Starsky centered him,
gave him focus. With Saeteurn and the rest of them around him, he just felt
burdened by the responsibility for their well-being. "Are there people
stationed at the back and on the fire escape?"
"Check," Lucy intoned in such a cop-like
way Hutch was vaguely irritated.
"Hold all fire unless I give a signal,"
Hutch leveled a stiff finger at her, holding up his walkie-talkie. "This
goes down as planned or I want chapter and verse as to why it didn't."
Approaching the hotel Hutch didn't allow himself to
dwell on the fact that he was ripping to shreds the promise he'd made to
Starsky. He couldn't think about personal matters, the way his head and jaw were
aching, and the tension knotting up the muscles along his upper back until he
felt like his shoulders were butting up to his ears. Such things were minor
distractions and had no place on the battlefield. Hutch walked forcefully into
the lobby, but there wasn't a soul to be seen, not even a desk clerk. He had
only one second to assimilate this fact when shots came from the stairwell to
his left. Flattening himself on a threadbare carpet, Hutch bellywalked backwards
towards the door, breathing in shallow puffs to slow his racing heart.
Oh God, let him get out of this alive, and before
Starsky heard it on the news, so he could explain why he'd gotten himself into
such a stupid-ass position!
"Lucy!" Hutch held the walkie-talkie as
close to his mouth as he could to lessen the chance of anyone overhearing him.
"Shots fired on the first floor landing, get in here!"
A pepper of gunfire forced Hutch to keep his head
low, but he managed to pull off return fire of his own, still unable to see who
was doing the firing. And what had happened to Cam Yin and the desk clerk? Not
to mention the other tenants in the hotel?
The thunder of boots tromping through the front and
back doors just increased the ear splitting cacophony, but Hutch felt bolder
with such a force beside him. Getting to his feet as Lucy and her troop stormed
the stairs, he followed behind, Python held ready.
Cam Yin was slumped against the wall, blood staining
his chest and arm, and from several feet away Hutch couldn't tell if he was dead
or not. There was a pistol in his hand, something German made, perhaps. At the
far end of the hall, a half dozen cops surrounded their quarry, the gruff sound
of someone reciting the Miranda in an uninflected voice making Hutch
inordinately tired. How had this gone from a well planned maneuver to a farce of
a movie shoot out?
Striding down to the huddle, he watched as a grim
faced Lucy pulled Schroeder to his feet. Despite what had to be an
excruciatingly painful wound on his left shoulder, the weasel gave Hutch a feral
grin. "Hutchinson, shoulda known. How's Starsky?"
It took every ounce of willpower not to pound the
drug dealer into dust, but Hutch gritted his teeth and returned the smile.
"Sorry that he missed the show you put on, Vinnie. I'll tell him you asked
about him." He turned, not wanting to look one second longer at the man
who'd turned Starsky's world upside down. It didn't matter that the cancer had
ultimately been the perpetrator of that offense, Schroeder would always be
linked to the events that lead up to the osteosarcoma diagnosis. "Don't let
him out of your sight, Hazard, even when the doctors examine him."
"Never entered my mind, Sergeant," she
Doors up and down the corridor began to open,
frightened faces peering out, and suddenly there were people everywhere, all
talking at once. It took Hutch only a short time to divvy up the jobs to his
fellow officers, some to interview the tenants, others to guard the crime scene,
and a few to control the crowd that now ringed the hotel as the wail of sirens
closed in on the building. Not one of the officers who charged in had been shot,
although one had wrenched his knee pretty badly climbing in the second story
window from the fire escape. Just the image of the curly haired cop entering
through the window reminded Hutch of Starsky. How many times had they burst into
a suspect's place, Starsky going low and he higher? Always together, although
their separate strengths complimented each other in the field. He was the steady
one, most often, holding back, keeping his eyes out for action. Starsky was the
go-getter, charging ahead when others might have waited. Hutch had always kept
up, even though Starsky was faster, Hutch's longer legs kept him in good stead.
Starsky's amazing agility and speed often had him racing down alleys, careening
up stairs, leaping from window ledges onto fleeing felons, never worrying that
his body would give out on him before his time. Hutch felt old, used up, and too
fearful now. This kind of life was so hard, and he was ready to step aside for
the younger generation. Even Schroeder's arrest didn't provide the satisfaction
it once would have. Because Vinnie Schroeder may had swung the bat, but
Starsky's leg had already betrayed him long before. And there was nothing Hutch
could do to change that.
"Hutchinson!" Dobey's voice bellowed from
the police band radio. Hutch leaned against a black and white, holding the mic
in one hand while he massaged his aching shoulders with the other. He felt like
crap warmed over for the third time--not good. It was already full dark, and
there were no signs that he could leave anytime soon. Once he was done on-site,
there were mounds of paperwork to do at the station.
"Yes, Captain?" he sighed.
"What the hell happened there?"
"Cam Yin Hsieh decided to take matters into his
own hands, Cap. From witnesses who had rooms to both sides of Schroeder, Hsieh
pounded on his door, demanded to be let in, and when Schroeder opened up, they
must have both fired. I had just entered the lobby and heard the shots--two in
quick succession and then several a few seconds later."
"Paramedics said he had a bullet up under the
collar bone. He was out cold but breathing when they loaded him on the rig--he
must have ducked fast cause there are four or five slugs in the hall from
Schroeder's gun, and three in the wall of Schroeder's room, probably fired from
Hsieh's H&K pistol."
"On his way to St. Joe's," Hutch closed his
eyes tiredly. Where he would like to be, with Starsky. "With an entourage
of police. He had a through and through on the left arm, but was lucid and
yelling for his rights when I last saw him. I let Hazard take him in, she'll
question him after the doctors check him out."
"You did what you had to, son."
"Capt'n, I didn't do a thing," Hutch said
with disgust. In truth he hadn't wanted to be near Schroeder. Something about
the perp made him want to wad him up and stuff him down the nearest garbage
disposal. "I gotta go--mopping up in progress."
He stayed in place a moment longer, staring down the
avenue, over the revolving lights of countless police and emergency vehicles.
Schroeder had come back to his old stomping grounds--not two blocks away was the
little alley between Del Prado and 39th Ave. where he had hidden the
drugs. Shaking his head, Hutch headed back into the hotel.
The night seemed endless, and Hutch ached from every
limb. He eventually located the absent desk clerk. The man claimed that he had
no prior knowledge of any gun battle, and had been his break. He even pointed to
the tattered copy of the OSHA rules providing all employees with a half hour
lunch and two fifteen minutes breaks in an 8 hour work shift.
"Sure it was exactly 15 minutes?" Hutch
asked sourly, leaning his head on one hand while Perez fidgeted in his chair.
"Maybe you took a little longer because you knew something was going
"No, I swear! I gotta--what you call it?
Used to Starsky's malapropisms, it didn't take Hutch
too long to decipher Perez. "Alibi?" he corrected.
"Yeah, that's it. I was with Xiocia."
"Sho-sha?" Hutch asked. "How do you
"With an 'X'."
"The rest of the letters would be helpful."
Perez spelled out his girlfriend's name. "She's
a housekeeper--cleans the first and second floors."
"Where did the two of you stage your
Hutch had the urge to use language frowned upon by
the department, but bit down on his tongue instead. He longed to talk to
Starsky, and not just because his partner was much more suited for this kind of
off-kilter interview. "I take it you and…" he consulted his notes,
"Xiocia were doing more than having a snack. Where were you?"
"Oh. Right here. In the break room. 'Cause we
were on our breaks."
"Lucky for all of us. Did you know Mr. Schroeder
was a wanted felon?'
"I seen that lady supe on the TV talkin' about
"And you didn't inform the police of his
"I gotta keep my job, man. I'm married, got four
kids at home. I can't call the cops on ever' person rents a room there. I'd be
fired on the spot."
So much for the loving, faithful husband and
community spirit, Hutch grumbled to himself. "Not even with Supervisor
Michaelson-Hsieh offering a substantial reward?"
"Oh, yeah," Perez brightened, then frowned.
"I coulda been rich, huh? Wanna know about anybody else? We got ten guests
right now, I think some of 'em are wanted."
"Thanks, we'll get back to you." Hutch
waved over a blue uniform to escort Perez out, and pressed the heel of his hand
into his forehead. The headache had only gotten worse as the night wore on, and
he was dead tired. Perez was the last of those needing to be questioned, and if
Hutch drove fast, and typed even faster he could get to the squadroom and
finished possibly sometime before two in the morning. Possibly.
He'd barely slid into the security of his battered
car when the radio squawked.
"Got a call for you, Hutch," Mary Jane,
from dispatch called. "It's Sergeant Hazard, at the hospital."
"Lucy?" Hutch answered, rubbing his eyes.
"What'd you get from Schroeder?"
"The doctors gave him something for the pain
while they were bandaging him and he's out until morning. Currently ensconced in
a private bed in the prison ward."
Right above Starsky, Hutch thought. "Get some
rest, you earned it. I can get over there for interrogation in the
morning." That is, if Dobey let him. Seemed very much like Dobey didn't
want Hutch's emotional involvement in the case to hamper his job. And on some
level Hutch knew that was a valid point, but he would so like to wrap his hands
around the drug dealer's neck and squeeze.
The squadroom was nearly deserted by the time Hutch
reached his desk. As expected, he found mounds of work on his desk and grimly
started in on reducing the pile, but the jangle of the phone broke his
Guilt rising, Hutch grabbed the receiver. He should
have called Starsky, reassured him that he was all right. Reporters and news
crews had swarmed around the hotel despite all efforts to keep them away.
Starsky probably knew more about the shoot out than Hutch did.
"Hutch?" Starsky's voice wavered for a
moment, although it could have been static from the connection. Hutch could
easily imagine his partner stuffing down any worry under the cover of light
banter, their usual form of communication in a tense situation. "You get
the bastard? News showed him being hauled off in an ambulance."
"Well, it's not for public consumption yet, but
Cam Yin Hsieh got to him first."
"Do tell? Old fashioned eye for an eye?"
"Don't usually sanction biblical retaliation,
but Schroeder had it coming in spades."
"You all right?"
"Yeah, partner." Hutch smiled. "I
could feel you right beside me the whole time. I got a mountain of official
rhetoric to get through before morning. See you tomorrow, okay?"
"Can you bring me a coupla new shirts? I wanna
look good when I walk outta here on Friday. Mika says she's gonna take
"Red shirt or blue?" Hutch leaned back in
his chair, enjoying the brief respite from his job. Imagining Starsky pulling
one of the shirts over his short crown of curls.
"Both, then you can tell me which one looks
"Always did like the red one, Gilligan."
"Then, just bring that one."
Hutch could hear the smile in Starsky's voice which
made him smile in return. "I may surprise you, babe." He knew he
should get off the line and back to work, but he was loathe to end the
connection. "Hey, how'd your Donkey Kick game go?"
"Donkey KONG, Hutch. I left those kids in the
"Starsky, you're older than they are, shouldn't
you be a little nicer?"
"Hah, when Jeremy first taught me how to use a
joystick he used to kick my butt daily. It's payback time."
"How's he doing on his chemo?"
"Jeremy and Farley are tough, man. Farley's
nearly through with his course, and it looks really good. He doesn't puke all
the time like I used to. Jeremy was only diagnosed at the beginning of the month
so it's rougher on him," Starsky sighed. "God, Hutch, just watchin'
both of them go through it. How'd you do it? How'd you stand to be around
"Love, Starsky, that's all I needed."
Something in his chest twisted and Hutch wished he were there right now, to see
Starsky's face when they talked about this. It almost seemed as though Starsky
only brought up some of his feelings for his illness when Hutch wasn't able to
talk long, as if he didn't want to dwell on what scared him, but still needed to
talk about it.
"And the Colonel, and Marian…"
"A really nice lady--she came from up North, in
the San Fernando Valley, I think, cause her local hospital couldn't provide the
care we got here," Starsky related. "Brain tumor--on her second
surgery. She's got this big scar across her head. I showed her the ones on my
Hutch pressed the palm of his hand against his mouth,
not sure whether to laugh or cry at this sweet gesture. Starsky had long gotten
over his self-consciousness about the lasting aftermath of Gunther's attack, but
he didn't usually show them off to many people. His soft heart was both an asset
and a detriment in a ward where everyone had a terminal disease. "Starsk,
you're becoming a good friend to these people."
"I never thought of it that way. But it's nice
t'get out, see that I'm not the only one…" Starsky stopped himself,
stuffing away the maudlin emotions. There was a long pause and Hutch expected
Starsky to say good night, but then he spoke again. "Hutch, remember when
Daisy came that day, brought over some cookies?"
"Back in December."
"Yeah. She-she used to have a twin, Florian.
Ain't that a weird name for a boy?"
"Never heard that name before," Hutch said,
anxious for reasons he couldn't account for.
"He had osteo when he was fourteen. He
died," he said, sounding detached and flat as if he really didn't want to
be discussing this right now. "That's what she told me. I don't know why I
couldn't tell you…it just…" He stopped again, and Hutch could almost
imagine him sitting there, one hand propping up his head, the other holding the
phone to his ear. "And she said that the only way to survive was never stop
"I love you. That's all I gotta say. I'm
Hutch could tell when he was being warned in no
uncertain terms not to say anything that would make either of them any more
emotional that they already were. "S'been a long day. I love you, too, you
"You coming by tomorrow?"
Surprisingly cheered by the call, Hutch tackled his
work with more enthusiasm. As it was, he left for home at one minute to two. His
whole body ached with a fierceness he hadn't experienced for a long time. The
headache had never gone away, pounding steadily behind his forehead with a
steady beat that was very nearly nauseating. He didn't even get fully undressed
before falling into bed, never even noticing when Pansy burrowed into the curve
of his warm body.
Starsky loved wearing shorts. He'd always been a big
believer in recycling ruined jeans by cutting them off, fraying the ends and
extending their wear for years, but now with one leg far shorter than the other,
shorts were practical as well as comfortable. He pulled on a pair of red jogging
shorts that Edith Dobey had donated earlier in the month. They had once been
Cal's before the boy hit the 6'2'' mark, and these had a narrower waist size
than Starsky's old ones.
Dressed for the day, he poked his head out of his
room, snooping unrepentantly. After all, he was a detective, snooping was what
he did best. Freed from all but a generalized feeling of illness, Starsky
enjoyed participating in the rhythm of life that made up the unit. These people
had become part of his family and he was interested in each and every one of
them. The Colonel already had visitors, so Starsky didn't go in to suggest a
game of checkers. Further down the hall, a nurse was carrying a chemo bag into
Sherry Martin's room, and Starsky made a mental note to go visit Sherry later
with some moral support. In the other direction, John Davies was schmoozing with
the nurses at the main station, a file of papers tucked under his arm. Starsky
headed that way, since it looked the liveliest.
"Hey, you old reprobate," Starsky greeted
his doctor by poking the rubber bottom of his crutch against John's Achilles
tendon. "Shouldn't you be healing the sick and raising the dead?"
"Well." John wiped his fingers on a napkin
before signing a med order with a flourish. "You survived my bedside manner
so far, even oncologists get a break once in a while."
"Doctor Davies just wanted donuts." Katie
grinned, flipping her hand over a tempting selection as if wafting the donut
aroma towards Starsky. "Only reason he ever stops here."
"And you're always promoting all that dark green
leafy rabbit food," Starsky sneered good-naturedly.
"'Course, it's the only reason Starsky ever
emerges from his room, either," she laughed. "Which one do you want?
Jelly or custard filling?"
"Jelly," Starsky ordered.
"No wonder you actually put on some
weight," John observed. "I hope you're getting some nutrition with
those empty calories."
"Took his multivitamin this morning like a good
little patient," Katie promised because Starsky's mouth was full.
From her desk adjacent to the nurse's station
Calliope answered the phone with an efficient "Rose Tree Unit, may I help
you?" Listening for a moment, she waved at Starsky. "Just one moment,
please, David Starsky is right here." Placing the caller on hold, she told
the surprised man to pick up line 36 on the phone by his elbow.
"Is it Hutch?" he asked, licking jelly off
"No, a woman. Edith Dobey?" When Calliope
said the name, tendrils of fear dripped acid into Starsky's belly.
Starsky put the receiver to his ear, "Edith, is
"Oh, David, I'm so sorry, I never…"
"Is something wrong with Hutch?" Starsky
blurted, now scared out of his mind.
Edith laughed slightly, "Not that I know of, I
was worried about you. How are you feeling?"
"I'm okay," Starsky answered shakily. As
long as Hutch wasn't hurt, everything was great. "Is it Dobey? What's
"I really didn't know Rainbow was sick when she
did the performance yesterday, or I never would have let her come--not to a
hospital. I thought it was her usual stage fright."
"Not just Rainbow, now Rosie and Aria have the
flu, too," she sighed, sounding more upset than Starsky had heard in a long
time. "They'll recover, but what about you? Are you having aches, nausea,
"No to all of the above," Starsky
vigorously assured her. "Past all that. So half the troop has the flu, and
you were afraid I got sick, too? Hutch was the one who talked to Rainbow."
"Oh, dear, I'll call Harold to send him
"I'll tell the nurses here, but Rainbow was
pretty far away from most of the audience. I don't think you need to worry about
it. But send Rosie-posie a kiss and a hug for me, will ya?"
Starsky replaced the phone thoughtfully, giving Katie
the news. She called over to the regular peds ward where a majority of the
audience had come from, but not one of the children there were showing any
symptoms. Starsky then tried Hutch at home, but only got their answering
machine, so he left a few sweet words for Pansy to listen to, and hung up.
"I'll try later, got P.T right now,"
Starsky said just as his therapist, Paolo, got off the elevator. He was back to
being worried again. Hutch was doing too much, overworked with the Academy and
the recent shootout with Schroeder, just ripe to catch a virus. Glancing up at
the ceiling in the direction of the prison ward Starsky curled his lip, hoping
that murdering drug dealer Schroeder was having some really painful needle
stick, or better yet, a urine catheter placed just then.
"Come on, David," Paolo said, pronouncing
the name as if Starsky and the famous statue by Michaelangelo were one and the
same. "More practice with the prosthetic."
Starsky grimaced. He hated the odd looking artificial
limb. It clamped on tightly to his stump, hurt like the dickens, and was
difficult to walk on. Just when he'd gotten quite limber with a single crutch,
the doctors decided he needed two feet again. "My leg hurts today," he
proclaimed defiantly, eyeing the unwieldy bundle Paolo had under his arm.
"Can't we just go to the pool for a swim, and a massage after?"
"Show 'em all by walking out of here," John
Davies said mildly, strolling towards the elevator.
"Yeah, I could," Starsky groused, but
followed the physical therapist down to the therapy room located near the
He did not enjoy himself at all. Some days therapy,
while painful, could be challenging and fun, but this had been just brutal,
agonizing work. He wasn't lying when he'd said his leg hurt. It still ached
nearly all the time; cramps as if his foot was locked into a ballet point giving
him hell at the most inopportune times, such as when wearing the prosthetic.
Exhausted, Starsky retired to his bed for an hour,
dozing. The phone rang loudly, jerking him out of a nice dream where he and
Hutch were surrounded by three overly large bad guys. but he flipped two of them
without batting an eye while Hutch disposed of the third. And he was wearing his
blue and white striped Adidas on both feet.
"Hey," Hutch said, and even his voice
sounded sick. Starsky wondered if he'd sounded that way after every single round
of chemo and had immediate empathy.
"Hey, yourself. You got the bad guy, huh?"
"You already knew that."
"I meant Rainbow's flu."
"I got to work, sat down in front of a pile
almost as big as the one I'd just dispatched with the night before, and Dobey
comes out yelling 'Hutchinson!'."
"Sounds about right."
"Sent me home."
"Are you there now?"
"Yep, on the couch, but Pansy's so fat she can't
jump up here anymore."
"How're you feeling?"
"A little like you used to--sore, tired,
temperature, don't want to move…"
"It's all coming back to me. Rest, liquids,
aspirin, and afternoon TV."
"You think that'll cure me, doc?"
"Ah, mais oui, mon petit chou-chou."
"What did you just call me?"
"The French consider cabbage to be the ultimate
sexy vegetable. Suits you."
"If I'm a leafy green, are you a big slab of
"Wouldn't you like to know?"
"Ugh--now I'm nauseated again."
"I always seem to have that affect on
people." Starsky grinned affectionately and kissed the phone wishing it
were pale Hutchinson flesh. "There, right on your hot forehead. Go to
"For once I'm the sick one."
"Yeah, an' I don't like it any better. Wish I
could be there to make you some of my famous chicken soup."
"You don't have any famous chicken soup
"Yes, I do. It comes in a red and white can.
Andy Warhol even did a painting of it."
"I'm going to bed, Starsky."
"G'night, John-boy," Starsky said, and hung
up. He hated knowing Hutch was sick at home alone and there was nothing he could
do about it. He couldn't call Edith Dobey, since she certainly had her hands
full with a sick daughter, and Starsky wasn't quite as cavalier about his own
health as he liked to pretend. As much as he wanted to race over to Dahlia
Street to nurse Hutch back to health, he didn't want to come down with the flu
himself, on top of everything else. He'd finished the neverending course of
antibiotics for the pneumonia one day ago, and had only three more days to go
before his release. The last thing he wanted was a relapse when he was this
short, as they used to say in Viet Nam, before a discharge date. He'd have to
stick it out, keeping in contact with his lover by phone. Maybe Huggy could
brave the sick room?
One day was very like the next in the Rose Tree Unit
when there were no visitors to look forward to, and therapy was a torture
session to be endured. Starsky found he was growly and out of sorts on Wednesday
morning. Hutch was still convalescing, although less feverish, and Dr. Davies
had declared that he had to stay away until Friday morning before he would be
allowed near someone with an all but nonexistent immune system. Starsky figured
some of his white blood cells must be doing their jobs, since he hadn't gotten
what Rosie Dobey termed the Rainbow plague, so he considered the whole
quarantine vastly unfair. Even Dobey and Huggy couldn't come up to the hospital
since they'd had contact with the flu sufferers. And since Starsky was due to
get out on Friday, he'd hoped to see his lover before then--preferably with the
asked for clothes. He couldn't decide whether he felt even more in prison than
usual, or that Hutch had been assigned to some far off Siberian Gulag. Made for
nice, melodramatic self pity to wallow in, but served little other purpose
except to highlight how much he missed Hutch.
In that evening he'd talked on the phone with all the
sickies, including Patient Zero, Rainbow, who was now on the mend, and visited
both Sherry Martin and Jeremy after their respective chemo doses. Starsky was
beginning to feel like the only even halfway healthy person on the planet, and
that wasn't saying much. For that matter, with his annoying phantom pain, and
the real one caused by extensive use of the artificial limb in the last few
days, he wasn't feeling all that well, himself. He didn't go out for a morning
donut as he had for the last week, and curled up with his old favorite TV
program, Telefrancais with the French speaking Pineapple, during lunch.
About three thirty in the afternoon, Starsky was
seriously bored. He needed something to distract him from his miseries, and
finally hauled himself up out of bed and down the hall for a chat with whoever
might be found at the nurse's station. It was a busy day, since
Marion-of-the-brain-tumor had had a stroke, and much of the staff were helping
with her. Calliope looked frazzled by the sheer number of calls on her
switchboard, and with shift change happening at the moment, all the nurses were
rushed and harried, even the new group just arriving. Starsky helped himself to
a chocolate from an open box of See's near the main desk telephone, listening
idly to the day shift charge nurse giving report to her evening shift
"Marian Vaughn with a brain tumor in 303 is
really bad, cerebral hemorrhage this morning, we nearly coded her," Linda
said sadly, rattling off a series of vital signs and lab values that Starsky
knew were abnormal. He grieved for the sweet woman who'd come with such high
hopes for the Rose Tree Unit.
"The Colonel, pancreatic cancer in 305, is doing
very well and should be going home soon--he's tolerating his chemo without many
side effects, and a home nurse will be administering it from now on," Linda
continued and glanced over Mika's head at Starsky with a teasing frown.
"David Starsky, osteosarcoma, in 307 continues to hang around the nurse's
station stealing sweets, and will be leaving us by Friday as long as Hutch gets
over his flu. His vitals have been rock stable and…"
"We'll all miss you." Mika winked at him.
"But not too much. I've got Jeremy this afternoon, David. Can you go check
on him so I can finish here? Katie said he's still having some emesis."
"What, am I suddenly an expert on that?"
Starsky pretended to complain, but he liked that the nurses trusted his
judgment. He'd had enough experience in the field of hurling to know whether
Jeremy was just feeling like shit, or really needed extra fluids and more
He practiced a pretty decent swagger with the aid of
one crutch, humming to himself, thinking of Hutch, and found Farley in Jeremy's
room trying to interest the patient in a game of cards. Jeremy, who looked
decidedly pale green, was giving the game his best shot, but didn't have the
concentration for Gin. "Not your best color," Starsky remarked,
feeling the boy's forehead with the back of his hand. "Mika's on her way.
You want a pill, or can you manage a soda?"
Jeremy scrubbed his balding head tiredly, coming away
with a handful of brown locks. "Not thirsty, but I'm okay for now."
"Hang tough cause everything's shit time,
huh?" Starsky took the cards, shuffling for another round. "How about
you and me against Farley?"
"That's no fair, two against one!" Farley
complained good-naturedly. "He was winning before."
"You were lettin' me," Jeremy pointed out,
pursing his lips and turning an even paler shade of sea foam.
Starsky just handed him the emesis basin, dealing
three hands of Gin without a word. All three of them were far too used to the
side effects of chemo to fuss much over puking. In a way, it was liberating, and
strangely, Starsky could relax with these boys in a way he couldn't do even with
Hutch. They all were all in the same boat; sick, bored, tired of having nurses
hold their hands. Tired of the sympathy of friends over the loss of their limbs,
tired of cancer. Sometimes, just acting like all of this was normal, in a
gruesome sort of way, was a relief. The empathy for each other's pain and
suffering was there, but it was tempered with an acceptance that you just had to
wade through the cesspool on your own to get to the other side. The goal was
remission, and each knew the mingled joy and hope of having that in sight.
They played three hands before Starsky noticed that
Mika had never come in, as promised.
"Think I'll go get some sodas for
everybody." Starsky glanced over at the wheelchair Farley had been using,
knowing he couldn't juggle three cans and use a crutch, too. "Gimme your
"Custom wheels, man, don't dent the
fender," the boy cautioned, hopping into a bedside chair and flipping on
the TV remote.
"You've obviously never seen me drive."
Starsky executed a flawless wheelie, to the admiration of his teenaged audience,
spinning the chair around so he was headed out into the hallway.
A loud noise, almost like a gunshot, stunned all
three of them. For a moment Starsky wanted to believe that it came from the TV,
but he knew differently. The sound had emanated from somewhere near the nurses'
"Stay here," he barked, changing back into
a cop as fast as Superman in a phone booth. "I'll be back."
It was one of those seminal moments when a boring day
transformed into the kind of afternoon TV movie writers base their scripts on.
Propelling himself forward at all speed, Starsky made the distance in a flash,
coming around the corner of the desk with a squeak of rubber. Calliope, her blue
eyes as wide with shock, gave an echoing squeal, scrambling to her feet so
quickly she knocked over her own chair. Standing in the small area between the
ward clerk's desk and the nurse's station were three men, two of them holding
Starsky stopped his forward motion by grabbing his
wheels, burning the pads of his fingers. No need to ask who the invaders were,
he recognized Vinnie Schroeder instantly. The other two were unknown factors,
but if they had allied themselves with Schroeder, they couldn't be trusted. One
of them, a lumbering hulk of a man with stitches running from hairline to jaw,
had a Saturday night special trained on Mika and Gemma while his partner was
busily severing phone lines with a scalpel blade.
"Mika?" Starsky asked, immediately
calculating the number of patients and nurses on the floor versus three
dangerous fugitives from the prison ward who all had guns. As far as he knew,
there were 8 cancer patients, four nurses, and Calliope on the Rose Tree Unit,
and with any luck a house keeper of some sort. Unfortunately, that meant mostly
women, a little girl, three guys with only one and a half legs each, and an 80
year-old man. Starsky wasn't enough of a chauvinist to dismiss any imput from
the females, but the odds looked pretty dismal.
"David, go back to your room," Gemma
Mika, her jaw tight, just nodded and pointed back the
way he had come, which was not his room. "Security is aware there's a
"Starsky?" Schroeder shifted his focus from
the nurses, swiveling the gun towards his new prey. Despite a large bandage
wrapping his left shoulder and upper arm, he didn't seem to be having any
problem holding the gun. Starsky hoped his wound opened up and started to bleed.
"Hey, pig, long time no see. Guess I really knocked you off your feet,
huh?" he jeered.
"You got off on the wrong floor,
Schroeder," Starsky said as casually as possible. "Murderers belong on
the fourth with the rest of the vermin." Hutch had always accused him of
letting his mouth run away with him. One of the other vermin finished slicing
his way through phone cords, and took a swing at Starsky. Under the
circumstances, such a blow could have knocked him senseless, but Starsky darted
the wheelchair back with a single revolution of the wheels, narrowly avoiding
the meaty fist.
"Shithead, get back here. Keep the exits
covered. Nobody gets off this floor alive until we get a decent ride and some
"Go to your room, David," Mika said more
urgently, and he got the message that time. She wanted him on the offensive, out
of the eyes of these three goons. But how? Even if the hospital security had
already been called, they were next to useless. Not allowed to carry guns, they
had a tendency to stand back and watch the action until BCPD arrived.
Unfortunately, in this situation, they probably couldn't even get onto the floor
in the first place. Starsky had no doubt that Schroeder was smart enough to have
blocked the exits. There were only four ways to get on or off this floor, the
two main elevators and the stairwells at each end. Since Schroeder's little band
of merry makers hadn't walked past Jeremy's door, they must have used the
stairwell from the far end of the third floor, beyond Calliope's desk and the
extra therapy rooms. The only patient rooms in that direction were the special
isolation rooms for people requiring bone marrow transfusions. Luckily, all four
were unoccupied this week, since Angel Conway had gone home after going into
"Losing a leg drain all the fight outta you,
pig?" Schroeder taunted.
Damping down on his rage, Starsky ducked his chin in
a defensive posture. "Yeah," he said softly, turning the wheelchair
around in a tight circle. Shithead was halfway down the hall, opposite Jeremy's
room, and Starsky's already racing heart stuttered a couple of beats before
resuming at an even faster pace.
Don't let him hurt the boys.
"Leave them out of it," Starsky warned,
trying to sound cowed. "The police will be here soon…"
"Just one crip in there, like him,
Schroeder," Shithead called.
One? Starsky thought worriedly.
"Looks like he's going to hurl!" Shithead
"You moron, it's a cancer ward--not a single
ball left between 'em," Schroeder sneered. "Round up the rest of the
nurses and lock 'em inside a room. And remember to cut the phone lines. We're
only keeping one open, for the negotiations. Gonna get us a jet outta here, and
a pile of cash for this bunch o'corpses."
"They're going to kill us!" Calliope
Starsky would have spun around and popped Schroeder
right in the face for that one, but he needed to play the role; remain passive.
Let them think he was washed up and useless until the time to strike back. He'd
had seminars on hostage situations, done role playing to out-think and
out-maneuver the captors. He just had to retrieve that knowledge from whatever
dusty shelf almost six months of sickness and chemo therapy had stashed it.
"Found one!" Frankenstein's Hulk yelled,
hauling a heavyset woman out from Sherry Martin's room.
"Get your hands off me!" Ester Hawkins
cried indignantly, swatting at the man.
"Hey, you're a feisty one, old woman."
Schroeder pushed his gun straight into her plush bosom, copping a feel with the
other hand. "Watch your mouth or you'll be goin' home in a body bag."
"Why--huh!" Ester exclaimed, fear written
plainly on her dark features.
"There's a door behind that desk. Put all three
in there, with the rainbow haired ditz, too," Schroeder commanded. The Hulk
pulled open the door, herding the woman inside.
"Wait a minute," Schroeder said, grabbing
Mika's arm. Her eyes slid over to Starsky with a silent plea before she turned,
standing up to the criminal with an iron will. Starsky was never more proud of
her. Taking that as his cue, he wheeled back to Jeremy's room, still wondering
where Farley had gone.
"You can't leave all these patients without
nursing care," Mika insisted. "They're sick, most of them need
"Well, boo hoo," Schroeder scoffed. "Ain't
that a shame, they'll all have to die just a little bit sooner than expected,
huh? Where'd you keep the drugs? Not any old cancer shit. Morphine, Percocet,
stuff like that."
"It's locked up!" Mika said.
"Well then, give me the key, girlie, or I may
have to put a bullet right through your pretty chest, and wouldn't that be a
"Take it." Mika tossed the med room keys at
Grimly, Starsky watched as Shithead blocked the fire
door at the far end of the hall with a broom handle through the push bar. Nobody
would be able to get up from the lower floors that way. The weasely-faced man
poked into a few doors, but seemed satisfied that all was secure, and headed
back towards the nursing station. Starsky sat his ground, guarding the entrance
to room 312. Once Shithead had passed, a blond head poked out of 316, her
"Davey?" Julia's voice quavered. Starsky
often read novels aloud to the girl who had already lost one eye to cancer and
would probably lose the other one soon. She was teary and emotional on the
calmest of days. "What's happening?"
"Julia, find Megan, and get in here,"
Starsky ordered tersely, holding open the door to what would be their
In a few minutes Jeremy's room was full. Farley had
hidden from Shithead in the tiny adjoining bathroom, which Starsky silently
applauded. One less hostage for them to be aware of. The two girls, Julia and
ten year old Megan, were terrified, and Jeremy was pale gray with mottled green
overtones. Starsky had seen better color on bodies in the morgue. Not exactly a
crack fighting team, but they would have to do. He had no way of knowing how the
Colonel, Marian, and Sherry Martin were faring on the opposite hall.
Also, who was the one remaining nurse, and where was
"Farley," Starsky said briskly. "Can
you navigate stairs with a crutch?"
"No problem," the boy boasted. "Me and
Paolo been working on that for weeks."
Starsky explained about the broom handle through the
stairwell door. "You know where the housekeepers hide their carts?"
"Across from the solarium. There's a little door
between there and the supply room."
"Good, go through the junction between this side
and the supply room, and hide there until you can get down the stairs safely.
Get to the police, tell them Vinnie Schroeder and two other guys have Saturday
night specials. You got that?"
"Got it, count on me." Farley nodded, a
lanky scarecrow of a boy, far too skinny for his height, but with the
determination of a pit bull. He'd survived two courses of chemotherapy, by
comparison, this was nothing.
"What we need first is a diversion."
Starsky surveyed his troops. Megan, in particular, had the rapt expression of an
adrenaline junkie for all her earlier fear. He recognized a bit of his own need
for action in her intensity.
"I can," she said, tugging at the bandana
that covered her bald head. "I can throw up."
"We all can do that!" Farley scoffed.
"On cue?" Megan challenged. "And I cry
good, too. My mama says I'm a regular Natalie Wood."
"I don't think that's such a good idea,
sweetheart," Starsky discouraged her gently. "Those guys are pros, and
"What choice do we have?" Jeremy spoke up
from the depths of his pillows and blankets. It was he Starsky felt most sorry
for. To be feeling that bad, and be held hostage on top of it all, was like
visiting hell and finding out you'd already been there.
"If I can get across to the Colonel, he and I
can…" Starsky started, but Megan dashed out the door, her red headscarf
floating to the floor in her wake.
"Gemma!" Megan cried, running down the
hall. "Where'd you go? I gotta…"
There was the sound of spectacular retching and a
nasty plop. Megan's already loud wailing turned into huge sobs.
"Gotta go." Farley sketched a quick wave,
shoving the supports of the aluminum crutches around his forearms. "Back
with the cops in a flash."
"This is like--uh--we have to be the heroes,
huh?" Julia asked, gulping against the tears running from her undamaged
"You've been a hero your whole life,"
Starsky assured her, listening to the sounds of Schroeder and his henchmen
trying to calm the marvelous Megan. She was making enough noise to raise the
dead, until Schroeder threatened to blow her brains out. Dead silence after
that. Starsky's already clenched belly threatened to imitate Megan's example,
but he held firm, peering out the door at the little girl. Being small, she
simply ran under The Hulk's spread legs and over to Calliope's desk,
disappearing under the counter. He could only hope her adrenaline would last
long enough before she exhausted herself. There wasn't much meat on the tiny,
bald headed child.
"You need to be the strong one right now, and
stay here with Jeremy, in case he needs anything," he said sternly, but
Julia nodded, her face as luminous as the moon through her tears. "I'm
going to get the Colonel. Stay here, and do not go anywhere."
"You're repeating yourself, man," Jeremy
teased wearily. "We'll be okay."
Megan was still leading the bad guys on a merry
chase, and from the disgust in Shithead's voice, had decorated his shoes. She
squealed loudly just as Starsky grabbed up the only crutch left, an old
fashioned wooden one with a rubber armpit brace. He swung across the hall to the
relative shelter of the passthrough between the nurse's break room and the
family room. Glancing down each way like a child crossing the street, he spotted
The Hulk standing guard near the nurse's station brandishing a pistol. He didn't
see Megan, but her shrieks must be audible in the next county, and then heard
Gemma's gentle voice cuddling her.
"Sergeant Starsky!" The Colonel beckoned
from Starsky's own room.
Lying on the couch with Pansy cuddled in the curve of
his knees, Hutch was feeling a bit better than the previous day, and especially
the previous night when he'd gotten no sleep whatsoever. Aching joints were
still being heard from, but definitely on the wane, his headache had diminished
to acceptable ranges, and his appetite was improving enough that he was
beginning to contemplate getting up to fix a piece of toast. But lassitude won
out. He wasn't quite hungry enough to get up from the comfortable spot under
Starsky's favorite afghan for a measly piece of bread and butter, especially if
it meant disturbing the cat. She had gotten immensely fat over the last month
and if he hadn't felt so crummy he figured he'd probably be more curious about
the cause. The drone of dull afternoon TV had lulled him into a light dose.
Abruptly coming awake, Hutch wasn't at first sure
why. His sudden movement startled the cat, who lumbered off the couch with a
dissatisfied miow, but by then Hutch was riveted to the scene on the TV. An
Asian woman with the 'do and wardrobe of a TV newsperson was talking rapidly,
gesturing at a building all too familiar to Hutch.
"Police have cordoned off the building, and are
in the process of trying to establish a communication with the men holding the
cancer patients hostage on the third floor, known as the Rose Tree Unit." A
piece of stock footage, apparently culled from some old piece featuring the
hospital, showed a brief montage of the Unit featuring the ward clerk's desk and
a few of the patient rooms. Hutch had to will himself to breathe, listening
intently to what the reporter was saying. A crawl identified her as Nina Yee of
"According to hospital sources, three armed men
stormed onto the third floor from the prison ward on the fourth floor, and took
over the Rose Tree Unit at about three thirty this afternoon. One of the
patients, a Farley Ryge, managed to elude his captors and escape unseen. He told
police that Vinnie Schroeder, a drug dealer suspected of murdering his
girlfriend Emerald Hsieh, the sister of Supervisor Adrianna Michaelson-Hsieh's
husband Cam Yin, had threatened nurses and cancer patients alike. Two other men,
both patients who had been incarcerated with Schroeder on the fourth floor, were
with him, and all were armed. Schroeder was injured in a shoot-out with Cam Yin
Hsieh only two days ago, and police arrested him after a prolonged manhunt. The
names of the patients on the Rose Tree Unit have not been released until family
members are apprised of the situation."
His heart trying to climb out of his mouth, Hutch had
a moment of panic, not sure what was the best course of action. Call the
precinct first, see what Dobey knew, or just drive down to St. Joseph's? He was
on his feet to go get clothes when the phone rang, rattling his already shredded
"Hello!" he shouted.
"Hutchinson," Dobey said tersely, and the
sound of his superior's voice helped lower Hutch's tension level.
"Starsky's one of the hostages?" Hutch
asked, his anger spilling over into his words.
"Yes, from what we can determine there are seven
"Captain, I'll be down there in ten minutes.
Apprise me then," Hutch barked. He couldn't think, couldn't let himself
imagine what was going on in that pleasant, homey unit. Moving solely on
instinct, he dressed quickly and left, flu symptoms completely submerged by his
concerns for the people Vinnie Schroeder had taken hostage.
The road in front of St. Joseph's was cordoned off,
blocked by what seemed like dozens of police and emergency vehicles. Ringing the
perimeter were the hordes of news crews who converged on any tragedy, bringing
it immediately to the public's eye. Hutch hardly saw any of them, bursting
through the lines of uniformed cops with steely determination. Luckily, two of
his former cadets were holding the on-lookers back and recognized him, letting
him through to the main staging area without delay.
"Detective Sergeant Ken Hutchinson," Hutch
identified himself to a short, rotund man behind the SWAT van. He only vaguely
recognized the cop, who was from the precinct bordering his own. Technically,
St. Joseph's lay in their vicinity, but because the entire Los Angeles county
used the hospital for wounded or sick prisoners, Hutch had authority to be
there. "What's the plan?"
"We've established a phone dialogue with
Schroeder," Ed Crais said in his brusque clipped manner. "He wants the
usual--money and a jet to the Islands."
"Got a sense of humor, huh?" Hutch said
without any trace of a smile. "How are the patients?"
"He says they have 12 hostages, but didn't
specify how many patients and nurses." Crais lit a cigarette, pulling in a
lungful of smoke. "The kid who came out the back way said he thinks there
are seven patients--two of 'em really sick."
Thank God Starsky was as healthy as he'd been in
months. "I want to talk to Farley Ryge, is it?" Hutch turned,
searching the surrounding area for the boy, but didn't see anyone who appeared
to be the right age. "What about the rest of the hospital? Are you planning
"Not now. There's only three gunmen. If we can
get out team up on the roof and have them come down from above, we can get a
shot at them easy enough."
"There must be other options."
"Not from where I stand, bucko," Crais all
but sneered, flicking cigarette ash to the ground. "The kid's in the Red
Cross van over there. Stay out of the way of my team."
Yeah, just watch me, Hutch wanted to say, but he
didn't. Discretion was his watchword until he could come up with something
better than blasting through the hospital endangering patient's lives. Feeling
the warm metal of his wedding ring like it was a physical manifestation of
Starsky, he stared up at the blank windows of the third floor, wondering where
his partner was just then.
Starsky watched the TV without speaking, the picture
on the small screen mocking him. Cameras were trained on the front of the
hospital, practically looking right through the window of the room he was
standing in, but there was no way he could signal them, or use them to his
advantage. Abruptly the scene changed to a short, stout man smoking a cigarette.
He gave a brief statement to the press, stressing the importance of getting the
hostages out safely, at all costs, and that they would not be lenient to the
kidnappers. Then, in the unfeeling way of television, a commercial for
hemorrhoid cream followed immediately.
"Sergeant?" The Colonel broke into
"Yes, sir." He straightened his spine.
"I feel an all out strike is our best
"I agree, Colonel." Starsky kept one eye on
the door. Luckily, Shithead was patrolling the hallway, and apparently didn't
seem to find the need to part the privacy curtain around the bed and check on
the inhabitants of room 307. Since Starsky's room was furthest from the nurse's
station, they had gone undisturbed for the better part of an hour. Megan had
finally been corralled, and locked into the nurse's break room with Mika, Gemma
and Ester. Sherry Martin, rising to the occasion, had made a brief foray down
the hall, when Shithead was over on the children's side, and discovered that a
tiny Asian nurse named Do Trang was hiding out in Marian's room to watch over
the comatose woman. Starsky worried that her brave stance might get her shot,
but he admired her determination to stand by her charge.
Using the supply room as an arsenal, Starsky had
stocked his pockets with everything lethal he could come up with, and had piled
the results on his bed. He and the Colonel had divided the spoils between them.
Both carried a scalpel and scissors. Sherry was piling bags of IV fluid into a
heap by the door for ammunition. Now all they needed was opportunity. Starsky
had the bad feeling that the SWAT teams he'd glimpsed on TV were even now
sneaking in through whatever access they could, to shower the place with
bullets. This, in his opinion, was to be avoided at all costs. Too much danger
of stray bullets hitting one of his friends.
Not for the first time he wished Hutch were right
next to him, to shoulder half the burden. He could almost feel his presence,
urging him to be cautious, but also to do what needed to be done. He looked back
at the TV mounted high on the wall, frowning. If only he could signal those
people below. He wanted to mount an attack on the invaders, but it would help a
great deal if he knew where the three of them were, to utilize his small army as
efficiently as possible.
"Sherry," Starsky said, catching the tall,
slender woman's attention. She wore a silk scarf tied gypsy style around her
head, which, combined with the paisley bathrobe she wore, made him think of a
fortuneteller. "You said you had some marking pens?"
'Yes, in my pocket." She pulled out a handful of
colored pens. "I was planning to sketch the ocean from the bay window at
the far side of the unit this morning. For some reason, it helps me ignore the
"Have I got a job for you." Starsky grinned
ferally, yanking the plain white sheet off of his bed.
Under any other circumstances, Hutch would have
enjoyed meeting one of Starsky's friends whom he'd heard so much about. As it
was, he was surprised at how ordinary Farley Ryge looked. Except for his
baldness, he seemed like any other 14 year old. Sweat pants and a huge T-shirt
emblazoned with the tour schedule for Bon Jovi disguised his thin frame, and he
was wolfing down some cookies in the Red Cross van when Hutch found him. The
only other person in the large vehicle was a woman wearing a Red Cross badge,
watching a portable TV.
"Hey, you're Hutch," Farley said with a
certain awe in his voice. "I've seen your picture--and you were on TV when
you collared Schroeder."
"Which seems to have come around to bite us in
the butt," Hutch muttered. He put out a hand, shaking Farley's bony one.
"Nice to meet you. Starsky tells me you play a mean game of Donkey
"Donkey Kong, man."
"I keep forgetting that," Hutch said
mildly, having made the gaff deliberately to put the boy at ease. Despite his
casual slouch, Farley looked far from calm. He had that strained, pinched
expression Hutch often saw on accident survivors. "Is there anything you
can tell me?"
"I told that Lieutenant Crais guy everything I
can remember." Farley shrugged.
"Starsky was like--you know, totally in charge.
He knew what to do. I went out the back, by the stairs near the solarium."
"I know that door."
"This guy put a broom handle through the pushbar,
but I took it out," Farley said proudly. "He probably put it back,
though. I don't know how anybody's gonna get back in there." His teenaged
pride had held the fear at bay up until then, but just the memory of his flight
to safety must have brought it back because Farley's voice squeaked up half an
octave, and he fell silent.
"Farley?" From behind them, a woman's voice
broke Farley's composure and he started to cry.
"Mom?" In a moment a plump woman with matte
black hair had her arms wrapped around the boy, both of them crying.
"The police called me," Mrs. Ryge kept
repeating, kissing her son's head reverently. "They said you were so
"Mom!" Farley wiped tears from his eyes,
gathering himself together. He glanced over at Hutch. "This is Starsky's
friend. They're cops, like in Miami Vice."
"Your son was indeed brave," Hutch agreed.
"It's not many people who could have snuck out past gunmen like he
"Thank you so much," Mrs. Ryge gushed,
still petting her son's arm. "Will the others be getting out soon?"
"That's the plan," Hutch said evasively.
"Farley, do you remember anything else?"
"I never saw Schroeder." Farley bit his
lip. "I was hiding in the bathroom when one of 'em searched Jeremy's room.
He never saw me."
"Yeah, but maybe I could have helped more, you
know? Like describe the other two guys?"
"I'm sure the hospital has records of who was up
on the prison ward with Schroeder," Hutch assured, disappointed
nonetheless. He'd hoped Farley could give him some pertinent tidbit that would
mean something just to him, and not to Crais. Questioning the boy was getting
them nowhere, but he didn't know what else to do. "You escaped with details
the police needed, and did it safely. That's the important thing."
"I'm just worried about Jeremy. He wasn't
looking too hot. And the old lady in 303. I think she was dying this morning.
The nurses were really busy." He chewed on his lip again, turning away from
his mother and Hutch, then stiffened, pointing. "Look at the TV!"
The Red Cross woman cried out in surprise, pointing
as Farley was. On the screen was a picture of a third floor window. A sheet had
been hung over the curtain rod, with the message 'Call Schroeder on the phone at
5:15" printed in crooked green letters.
Hutch laughed. Starsky must have a plan.
With his back pressed against the wall Starsky didn't
have to rely on the crutch for balance, and he allowed himself a moment to rest.
He was beyond tired. A week flat on his back on the couch was beginning to sound
pretty good again. His head ached, his belly churned, and worst of all the
phantom pain in his foot had decided to cramp up into what felt like a tight
ball of misery. He'd been warned right up front about the phantom pain. Even
before the surgery, a pain specialist had come in to explain about the poorly
understood phenomenon, but hearing a dry recitation of the symptoms and
experiencing them were two different things entirely. He remembered dismissing
the warning, figuring on a little achiness below his knee, not very real cramps
that wouldn't go away.
Willing himself into a calmness that had no basis in
reality, but helped nonetheless, Starsky shrugged the old fashioned crutch back
into his armpit, waiting for the signal. His troops were in readiness. All the
wandering he'd done in the last few weeks, prowling the ward, learning the
shortcuts to get from his corridor to the children's side, finding out where the
nurses stashed their candy; it had all paid off. He knew the Rose Tree Unit so
well he'd kept the kidnappers bamboozled now for over an hour and a half without
one of them seeing him or the Colonel sneaking about.
Starsky was once again in the opposite hall, near
Jeremy's room. Julia stood just inside the door, with her good eye to the space
between the barely open door and the wall, poised to do her part. Giving her an
encouraging smile, Starsky started walking toward the nurse's station, his whole
body tingling with repressed adrenaline. Even so, the ringing phone seemed
louder and shriller than on any ordinary day.
"You got my jet?" Schroeder demanded
aggressively into the receiver.
With Schroeder momentarily distracted, Starsky called
out, "Hey, Shithead, the SWAT guys are coming up the back stairs!"
Meaty fists clenched, the vermin came down the hall
at a run. Starsky used his crutch like a battering ram, shoving the rubber
tipped end into his beer gut just as Julia threw a bag of lactated ringers down
the hall like a water balloon, smashing him right in the face. Shithead hit the
wall, stunned, as Julia lobbed another IV bag at him. The second one knocked him
to the ground and she giggled triumphantly.
Taking one minute to remove the barricade keeping the
nurses and Megan in the break room, Starsky shooed them out. "Go, go! The
door near the solarium--tell the cops we're taking back the hospital."
The women streamed past him, but Mika and Gemma
separated, going for their charges while Ester and Calliope went after Megan.
Tossing Mika a length of tubing, Starsky whispered, "Tie his hands before
he can get up." She paused for half a second, but went resolutely to her
job, tying the knot like a surgeon finishing off a line of sutures. From the
other hall, Starsky could hear sounds of a struggle, proving that the Colonel
and Sherry were doing their part with Frankenstein's Hulk.
"Fucking cops!" Schroeder slammed down the
handset. "Cosgrove! Where'd you get to?"
Hoping that the drug dealer would come this way, so
Starsky would have a chance to wreak a little personal revenge, he skirted the
now struggling criminal on the floor and walked out to where Schroeder could see
him. "Looking for your henchmen, Vinnie? They're not gonna be much help to
you, and the cops'll be here any minute." He smiled lazily, feeling cocky.
"You could just give yourself up right now."
The only thing Starsky didn't want to deal with was
Schroeder's pistol. Taking a stance like the Karate Kid going into his one
legged crane, Starsky swung his crutch, glancing it off the barrel of the gun as
Schroeder turned the weapon on him. The gun flipped out of Schroeder's hand, and
amazingly, over the top of the nurse's station onto a pile of patient charts.
"You never did know when to give up!"
Schroeder snarled, lunging at Starsky. The attack was too sudden and Starsky's
balance wasn't that good without support. Schroeder crashed into him, sending
them both over a metal cart parked near the med room door.
Starsky felt a sharp pain shoot through his left
side, but he rolled to protect his abdomen, kicking back at Schroeder while
reaching out blindly with his right hand. Closing his fingers around smooth
wood, Starsky gasped when Schroeder punched him hard in the kidneys. He was used
to working through pain, though, and scrabbled across the linoleum to get a
better grip on the crutch. Behind him he could hear a commotion, voices raised
and the thunder of trampling feet, but Starsky stayed focused. With his breath
wheezing in his chest, he evaded another punch from Schroeder, and swung around,
the weight of the crutch giving him counterbalance. With a jarring blow, he
nailed Schroeder in the knee, shattering his kneecap.
Starsky would have bounced, but the gurney he was
sitting on wasn't the softest, and his ribs did hurt. Still zinging with left
over adrenaline from the afternoon's action, he'd been waiting in the Rose Tree
examination room since Mika left him. She had given him the once over before she
left to give her story to the police. Starsky suspected he would have to take
his turn soon, but because of his status as a cancer patient, he'd been isolated
from the hordes now crowding the unit's halls. By total coincidence, both the
attending doctor, Ellen Weaver, and Lynwood, the oncology fellow for the day,
had been taking a late lunch together when the kidnappers arrived. Once Dr.
Weaver arrived back on the unit she had hustled all the immuno suppressed
patients back to their rooms, ordering the investigating officers to conduct all
questioning of witnesses with medical personnel present. After hearing that
there hadn't been a single doctor around during the crisis, the hospital
administrators immediately made a proclamation that there should always be a
doctor on the floor at all time. Starsky wasn't sure exactly how that would have
helped matters, in the long run. He looked up expectantly when the door opened,
and grinned widely.
"What'd you do, break quarantine?" he
asked, more glad than he could say to see his partner.
"How bad is it?" Hutch asked tightly,
pointing to the blossoming bruises on his side.
"Mika thinks it's a cracked rib."
"Feels like two," Starsky admitted with a
"You are so lucky. If it weren't for that, I'd
beat the shit out of you. What the hell were you thinking?"
"That I was a cop."
That simple statement doused Hutch's anger like water
on a flame. "You are a cop."
"I got him, Hutch, tricked the bastard and took
him down. No gun, no cuffs, just a trusty crutch. You oughta start carrying one
in the trunk of your car."
"I'm getting out of this racket, remember?"
Hutch molded his hand to Starsky's cheek, stroking his thumb across Starsky's
"Tennis racket would work, too," Starsk
added mischievously, still aglow with his success.
"Stop that racket while I'm kissing you,"
Hutch insisted, suiting action to his words.
"Hutch--it felt so good, though!"
"I should hope so."
"Not that," Starsky grinned and kissed him
back quickly, joy bubbling out of him like a boiling pot of water.
"Catching the bad guys! Gettin' in on the action. I was slick, man. I want
t'go back to work."
"What?" Hutch asked incredulously.
"This could really work, I'm tellin' you! We'd
be terrific together. If nobody ever spotted us for cops before, think what kind
of a disguise this is!" Starsky patted his truncated thigh. "I'm not
good on the running and jumping stuff, but I can go low--real low, keep my eyes
"You're higher than a kite."
"Natural high, it's great stuff. Better'n
"Better than sex?"
"Well…" Starsky took a deep breath,
forgetting the ribs in his excitement. He wrapped his right arm around his
torso, splinting his chest. "Damn."
"Hurt, did it?" Hutch asked dryly, easing
Starsky's arm up slightly and very gently palpating the bruised area. Starsky
gasped at the contact, Hutch's hand cool on his warm skin. It would have felt a
lot better if he wasn't so battered. "Bones don't shift when you breathe,
and you're talking a mile a minute, so it can't be that bad. Might not even be
cracked, more like deep bruising."
"Well, well, well, where did you get your
medical degree, Dr. Hutchinson?" John Davies asked from the door, a smile
ruining the stern tone. "I can't take a day off without all hell breaking
loose around here?"
"Just trained under the accident prone one
here." Hutch lightly flicked Starsky's knee.
"Am not," Starsky said, all but pouting.
His enthusiasm had fled abruptly with the renewed pain, and the memory of all
that had transpired between 3:30 and 5:30. Thoughts of his valiant troops
assailed him, and he was astonished that he'd been so cavalier as to forget the
other patients for even a short time. "John, how's Marion?"
Washing his hands, Davies shook his head sadly.
"She died--just after four, as far as Do can tell."
"Would she…?" Starsky asked, stricken.
"Could she have survived if they hadn't…?"
"I wasn't with her this morning, but Ellen
Weaver's notes aren't encouraging. She was probably already dying,
Starsky," John said regretfully. "Let me take a look at your war
"First fill me in on everybody else. Was the
Colonel ok? He was going like gangbusters, and Farley!" He hitched a
breath, rubbing his side. "He was brave, huh, Hutch?"
"Starsky, I can put a thermometer in your mouth
to shut you up," John threatened. "I need to listen to your
"Farley said you were totally in charge,"
Hutch answered. "The kid was great. All of you were."
"Megan is soundly asleep, according to Gemma,
completely knocked out from what sounds like quite a performance. Julia is
talking a blue streak to the police, more than I've ever heard her say at one
time, ever." John smiled, placing the stethoscope on Starsky's chest.
"You get the rest after I do my job. Take a deep breath."
Starsky complied with a wince, waiting fairly
impatiently for the examination to finish. Now that his burst of energy was
draining away, he felt exhausted, lightheaded, and in pain from a variety of
sources. Amazingly, the agonizing phantom cramp that had bothered him earlier
was completely gone. A small relief, but welcome, nonetheless.
"Your lungs sound clear, but I'll wait for an
x-ray. Did Mika give you anything for pain?"
"I'll order something for the next day or two.
Then see how it goes." John scribbled down his observations on the patient
"I'm going home on Friday," Starsky said
petulantly. He saw Hutch begin to speak and stop. Starsky glared at him.
"Not now," the doctor answered, still
"John!" Starsky protested, anger flaring up
like a white flame in his chest. "I did everything, followed every damned
rule you made to get outta of this place!"
"And now you're banged up, and if you keep
shouting, it will hurt worse," Davies said reasonably. "Do you want to
hear about the rest of your merry band of men, Robin Hood?"
"Even if he doesn't, I do," Hutch spoke up.
"Traitor," Starsky hissed.
"The Colonel says Starsky made an excellent
second in command. He and Sherry used several lengths of IV tubing tied together
to trip up their man, then apparently threatened him with a scalpel."
Davies shook his head in wonderment. "I'll be looking at all the stuff in
the supply room with a different eye from now on."
"Farley, Julia, Megan, The Colonel, Sherry,
Marian…" Starsky swallowed against the pain that lodged in his throat at
the thought of the brave woman who had faced her brain tumor and lost. "And
"Resting as comfortably as anyone can on the
regime of chemo he's on," John said. "But he said to tell you he
hadn't had such excitement since his older brother took him on a camping trip
and they encountered a bear. Could be a compliment, but I'm not sure."
"The kid was sick as a dog but he never
complained," Starsky said softly. "Can I go back to my room? Hutch,
"In as much as you've thrown my quarantine
completely out the window, I guess that would be the best thing," Davies
turned, regarding Hutch with a practiced eye. "How are you feeling? Heard
the current strain going around is a doozy."
"Nothing about two days of sleep won't
cure," Hutch waved away the concern. "I can sleep here better than at
home, to be truthful."
"Get back to your room, then," Davies
ordered genially. "I'll send Mika over with something for the pain,
"It's not so bad," Starsky lied, then
groaned when he climbed off the exam table, his muscles screaming from the
twisting motion. Hutch took his arm, steadying him, and Starsky was never so
grateful for that small gesture of support. Biting back another moan, he
relented to the wheelchair Hutch had positioned right in front of him.
"Starsky, thank you," John Davies said,
rubbing the small of his back without seeming to notice he was doing it.
"I was just doin' my job," Starsky
answered. He was silent as Hutch took the chair on a round-about route to room
307, to avoid the police still combing the unit. In that short space of time,
Starsky felt something elemental drop into place, balancing his psyche in a way
that was healing and powerful. "Hutch?"
Starsky could hear, for the first time since Hutch
had arrived, how tired he sounded. Hutch shouldn't even have been off his
sickbed, yet here he was pushing a wheelchair, and assuming the burden of
provider, once again. Things would be different once Starsky got back home.
"I could still do the job, couldn't I?"
"You proved that well enough today,
"I didn't mean to prove anything to anybody. I
just wanted to be a cop," Starsky took a careful breath in, panting against
the sharp pain under his left arm. "I still am a cop. I thought that losing
my leg would take away who I am, but it didn't."
Hutch set the hand brake on the chair, coming around
to squat down so he was level with Starsky. "The person I loved never
"But I thought I had--until today, I thought
that part of me was gone." Starsky grit his teeth, warring with the tears
welling in his eyes. "I-I know I can't go back, there's no point in that,
but I still am a cop."
"You are," Hutch whispered, pulling Starsky
forward. The transfer of weight nearly bowled Hutch over, but he staggered, then
lifted Starsky up in his arms.
"Put me down, you'll drop me!"
"Nope, but you've definitely gained weight,
Rocky." Hutch settled on the bed, gathering Starsky closer up on his lap.
"I hated being out there looking in. I think now I know what it feels like
to be a cop's wife."
"You're the wife?" Starsky swallowed,
knuckling away the stray tears that had escaped. "Cause I sure felt like
that th'other day when you went after Schroeder."
"Then we're even," Hutch said lightly,
playing with the curls at the back of Starsky's neck.
Starsky turned his face into Hutch's shoulder,
relishing the warmth and safety that surrounded him. He wanted to melt into that
strength, wallow in the love for a couple of hours and forget the hospital, the
cancer and, most of all, Vinnie Schroeder. "I wanted to hurt him bad."
"Mission accomplished, Mr. Phelps."
"I wanted to give him cancer," Starsky
whispered into Hutch's warm neck, ashamed of the intensity of his hate for
Schroeder. Rationally, he knew the man hadn't had anything to do with the
abnormal cells in his bones, but he would always link the drug dealer with his
"I know," Hutch said, tightening his hold.
When Mika came in to administer Starsky's pain pills
and take him off to x-ray, she found the two of them curled around each other,
The next few days were a blur of interviews and
frequent visitors. The Rose Tree Unit had never been so busy with all the
constant comings and goings of police, TV people and newspaper reporters. Cancer
patients taking on three armed felons was big news, and the media coverage was
extensive. Even with the restrictions imposed due to the Rose Unit Six's medical
needs, most of them got their moment of fame in either the daily paper, or on
local and national chat shows. Tom Brokaw did an edition of his news show from
the lobby of the hospital, talking to the Colonel and Farley Ryge.
Starsky tried to stay under the media radar, having
had his fill of being misquoted in his years on the force. Even so, his picture
was on the front page of the Bay City Chronicle and the LA Times on Thursday
morning. The wire services picked up the story, bringing in attention from all
over the U. S. Nick Starsky called from prison, because he'd seen the Brokaw
show and now wanted the full scoop from his famous brother. Their grocer, Perry,
phoned to say he wanted his copy of the Times autographed and framed so he could
boast about his famous clientele. When Daisy heard about this, she wanted one,
too, for the bakery.
"I've never even been to Daisy's place!"
Starsky laughed, signing two copies of the article anyway. "Nick called
this morning, when you were at the academy."
"Yeah?" Hutch asked evasively. "What
he have to say?"
"He's getting out, y'know that? Good
Hutch hesitated, never quite sure what to say about
Starsky's wayward brother. He'd never really liked Nick's slick, con artist
style, but since he was family, Hutch had always forced himself to be civil, if
not totally friendly. Starsky had been devastated when his 'baby brother' was
indicted for numbers running, extortion and illegal gambling, earning himself
five years in prison. He'd served roughly three, so far. Hutch trusted Nick's
good behavior about as far as he could throw it, but vowed to be happy because
Starsky was. "Good news. Did you tell him you were being sprung in the
"He didn't know I'd been here so long."
Starsky shrugged. "I wrote him, but maybe he forgot."
Because the last time he called you were in surgery,
Hutch wanted to shout, but he didn't. Starsky deserved better than the schmuck
he had for a sibling.
"D'you think Nick could come out? T'visit before…"
Starsky fiddled with the pen he was holding, doodling on a pad of paper. He drew
a series of spirals, then sketched out a long dark rectangle, and Hutch had a
sudden overwhelming sense of the whole room tilting, of himself sliding forward,
the floor rushing toward him. His vision darkening, he sucked in huge quantities
of air, just managing to avoid passing out completely.
"Hutch?" Starsky was shouting when Hutch
finally felt the ground firmly under his feet again. He was hanging onto the
arms of the chair, his fingers aching from the strain, and from all appearances,
hadn't actually pitched onto the linoleum, but it had been a near thing.
"You're white as a ghost, what the hell happened?" Starsky demanded,
looking pretty pale himself.
Still trying to regain his equilibrium, Hutch wasn't
entirely sure. Then he saw the coffin Starsky had drawn, and closed his eyes.
"I'm afraid of being alone."
"Aw, Hutch," Starsky said, and they both
jumped when the pen rolled off the bed, clattering loudly when it fell to the
floor. "I never planned on going first."
"Starsk, up until recently I thought the hardest
thing I ever had to do was watch you being wheeled away with Jennings' poison
still inside you," Hutch started slowly, his momentum building. "Then
I had to drive you to the hospital, knowing you'd have your l-leg amputated in
the morning. But I'm not sure I can do this. I'm so afraid of watching you
"Don't watch, then," Starsky said simply.
"Watch me live. And live right along with me. Y'know, I've been thinking
about Terry lately."
"Yeah?" Hutch nodded at the memory of the
vibrant young teacher, watching Starsky through a film of tears. He hadn't
planned on starting any of this, bringing up the subject of death, but it
hovered over the two of them like the cartoon black cloud which only rained on
Wyle E. Coyote. They always skirted around it, pretending that if it never came
up in conversation, it wouldn't happen. The problem was, as Starsky's discharge
came closer and closer, Hutch feared the inevitable all the more. He'd been
vastly relieved when Dr. Davies postponed Starsky's going home for two days,
giving him that much longer to ignore what was right above their heads.
"She thought it was silly to have a little piece
of metal in her head dictate her life." Starsky had that sweet, sad smile
Hutch had seen so often after Terry's death. "I couldn't even begin to
fathom what she was talking about, how she could go around knowin' that she was
going to die--really soon, maybe."
"Like walking on a frozen lake," Hutch said
almost inaudibly, his heart breaking. "You never really know when that
crack is going to shatter the ice to pieces."
"Yeah!" Starsky nodded, blinking at the
tears in his eyes. "I thought that if I could keep her so still, perfectly
still, in the bed, that she'd survive. It's not possible." He tucked his
fingers under Hutch's, like a prairie dog burrowing into it's hole. "And I
know you've got the hard part here, Hutch, but I don't know if I can cope
"I'm not going anywhere," Hutch said
forlornly. He thought he should give Starsky a hug, snuggle close while there
was still time, but he just stayed seated by the bed, cherishing Starsky's hand
curled so safely under his. If he were given three wishes right then, they'd all
be for Starsky.
Give him back to me, even if I have to keep him
perfectly still in bed, at least he'd be here.
Wanting to escape any media coverage of 'the first
cancer patient to leave the hospital since the hostage crisis', Starsky engaged
Linda and Katie in a fairly elaborate scheme to keep the reporters from knowing
when he left. Really, all the nurses did was pretend Starsky was still on the
floor after he'd already been discharged, but the ruse worked.
After handing out presents to all the other patients,
and flowers and boxes of candy for all the nurses, Starsky was hustled down the
back stairs to a lower floor and onto the freight elevator to the loading dock.
Hutch had already loaded up the trunk with Starsky's accumulated detritus from
nearly three months in the hospital, and driven around the back to meet his
partner in relative seclusion. There was a camera crew hovering in the hospital
lobby, so Hutch made doubly sure they didn't see him circling around to the
Starsky climbed wearily into the car, automatically
stowing his crutch behind the seat, and leaned his head against the headrest.
"Those stairs wore me out."
"Well, you'll be glad to know you missed Donna
Kelly from channel five weekend edition," Hutch said, steering out of the
"Donna Kelly?" Starsky griped. "Didn't
even rate the top brass like Cronkite? Man, I'm bushed. Wake me when we get
"I told you not to climb the stairs yourself,
what was Linda thinking?"
"Hutch, I can walk, get over it."
Starsky never even opened his eyes when he spoke,
just sighed, squirming around to get comfortable in the patched seat. Hutch had
never felt so completely cut off from Starsky, and he knew it was entirely his
own fault. Ever since they'd broached the whole watching-Starsky-die subject,
Hutch had been sick with anxiety. They both could banter just like normal, but
each word was strained, filtered through so many emotions and reactions it was
exhausting to try and sort them all out. Mentally beating himself up for not
being more compassionate and supportive, Hutch drove silently. He was so gripped
with such fear for something that might not even happen for months that he could
hardly sleep, much less breathe. The waiting was the worst, giving the immediate
future a shifting murkiness where every step, every minute, held unknown dread.
When would it happen? How would he react? He flashed on his mother, the epitome
of propriety and proper decorum--she'd know how to act when a loved one was
dying. She'd have the correct thing to say to convey all that had been left
unsaid up until then.
Left unsaid. That was the gist of his fear. How did
one cram a lifetime of love and commitment into so short a time? Would he be
allowed time, or would the end come shockingly soon, like here in the car with
Starsky looking so normal? Would he know in time?
With an ache that bored through his heart, Hutch
wished he could reach out right now and hold onto what was most precious;
somehow preserve some part of Starsky for ever and for always.
It wasn't possible and he despaired, turning from
Magnolia Road onto Dahlia Lane. Their pretty white house sat back on a smooth
green lawn that Hutch hadn't mowed, or watered, in months. He wasn't even sure
he knew who had tended the grass, and was humbled by that simple act of
"S-starsk?" he called, ashamed of the
revealing stutter. Starsky knew him too well. He'd be able to read the pain
Hutch wanted to hide. "We're home."
"Look at that," Starsky said in wonder,
rubbing his eyes. "Cherry blossoms."
Each house on Dahlia had a blooming cherry tree
planted at the bottom of the lawn. The trees were in full regalia, puffed out
like pink cotton candy in the warm March air. Sprinkled across many gardens were
vibrant red tulips, yellow daffodils, and purple crocuses announcing the joy of
Spring. Southern California might not have the obvious changes of season that
Hutch remembered from his childhood in Duluth, but there were still reminders
that winter had left, and Spring was bounding forth.
"I went in at Christmas time and came out just
in time for the Easter bunny," Starsky said quietly, with audible regret.
"Passover and Easter come the same weekend this
year, which is over a month away." Hutch spoke heartily to disguise his
shakiness. "Enough time to eat a couple chocolate bunnies and all the
challah you want." He walked briskly around the car, unloading the trunk
with jerky, tense movements.
"You okay?" Starsky asked astutely. He'd
gotten out far more quickly than Hutch expected, and was standing with one hand
on the car door, looking over at Hutch with tenderness. "It's okay to feel
like you do. I've had more time to get used to th'whole thing, y'know?"
"You're not supposed to be comforting me,"
Hutch snapped, setting a potted palm down on the sidewalk. How had Starsky
collected so much junk? There were stuffed animals, stacks of 'get well' cards,
a cardboard box of t-shirts he hadn't had in December, and the huge plastic
storage bin full of magazines, puzzles and games. On top of Starsky's bulging
duffel bag of dirty laundry Hutch placed the grimmest and most recent
acquisitions; more than a dozen meds, several bags of IV fluids, "just in
case he gets dehydrated", along with tubing, syringes and alcohol wipes.
Hutch had learned how, and why, each were necessary, even if his heart lurched
every time he looked at them.
"Why not? Cause I'm the one with actual
diagnosis?" Starsky said. "You're holding yourself together with
coffee and grit, Hutch. Let go, for my sake."
"Yeah, well, I've got work to do," Hutch
retorted, stung nonetheless. Starsky was right, so why couldn't he relax? The
need to be vigilant, to guard against attack was so strong that he couldn't drop
the act even though rationally he knew he couldn’t prevent a microscopic
cancer cell from taking Starsky away from him. He lugged several armfuls of
stuff up to the front door before unlocking the knob and tossing the duffel bag
and box of shirts inside. Pansy was sprawled on the carpet just beyond the
foyer, miowing her welcome.
"Mail's here," Starsky called, peering into
the box. "Don't you ever take the mail in? Must be coupla days worth
crammed in here." He extracted a wad of envelopes, flipping through them.
"You got a long one. From the state testing board."
Too distracted to remember why he'd received anything
from that source, Hutch stopped, the sack of narcotics and other painkillers
hanging limply from his hand. "For the MCAT?" he asked hollowly.
"Won't know until you open it, huh?"
Starsky pressed the envelope into his hand. "C'mon in the house, open it
Hutch let Starsky propel him onto the couch despite
the trail of potted plants and plush toys left on the front walk. He stared
stupidly at the envelope, wondering why this mattered any longer. As if his
going to medical school would change anything. He'd be forty years old before he
even got near a classroom, and closer to fifty before he finished his residency.
Who the hell would put themselves through that when he had a fine job of
teaching cadets at the academy? And Dobey wanted him to take the lieutenant's
exam, a much more reasonable course of action. He'd ace the lieutenant's exam,
no doubt about it. Except that there was no spark left in him for those jobs.
Medical school, on the other hand, held a kind of allure, an almost palpable
enticement, even in his current state of suspended animation.
"Hutch, you're killin' me here," Starsky
drawled dramatically. "Open it up, or I will."
Sliding his forefinger under the flap, Hutch
extracted the letter. "Testing date for the MCAT is March 25th, in
Torrance. Please arrive promptly at 8 am with a number two pencil," he read
"That's terrific!" Starsky grabbed the
letter, examining it with typical Starsky enthusiasm. "Hey, aren't you
excited? You been studying that book since December, must have it memorized by
"It's…great," Hutch agreed, wondering if
he had the energy to go out and pick up all the rest of Starsky's toys before
the neighbor kids had a field day.
"Hutch, are you mad at me?"
"Why would I be mad at you?" Hutch asked
"Because I stopped the chemo," Starsky said
in such a vulnerable voice Hutch swung around to stare at him. Starsky still
looked frail. No longer bald, and no longer so thin he would have keeled over in
a stiff wind, he now possessed a sort of unworldly beauty, pale skin stretched
over sharply peaked cheekbones and chin. For a moment Hutch imagined he was
carved out of pale pink marble, one of Michaelangelo's masterpieces.
"No, I'm not…" he started to lie, but the
honest pain on Starsky's face slayed him, and he was compelled to tell the
truth, as hard as it was to admit. "Yes, I'm angry."
"I won't restart the chemo."
Hutch swallowed, eviscerated yet somehow still alive.
"I know. I--I'm not mad at your decision, or you, Starsk. I hate the
cancer, what it's done to us. And I can't help it--maybe I shouldn't be around
you right now because I feel like shit, and I'm having a hard time getting past…"
"That Davies let me out of the hospital, and now
it's all on you," Starsky finished in a muted voice.
"I don't know, maybe." Hutch ground the
heel of his hand into his breastbone; his heart hurt. That would just be the
icing on the cake, if he had a heart attack right then and there. "Maybe
I'm just not strong enough to see this through." He dropped his hand down
over the edge of the couch and felt Pansy butt her head up against his palm.
"I love you, Starsk."
"I love you, too." Starsky stroked Hutch's
hair, his hand feather light as it slid down the back of his skull. "Life
sucks and then you die, huh?"
"I thought it was 'Life's a bitch and then you
die," Hutch corrected, on the verge of tears but fighting them. Pansy
butted his hand again, demanding to be petted and he obliged half-heartedly,
simply to appease her.
"Same difference." Starsky craned his neck
to see what Hutch was doing, and chuckled low in his throat. "Hutch, when
was the last time you really looked at Pansy?"
"She and I shared the same couch the other
day." Hutch picked up the little cat, surprised at how truly heavy she'd
become. He felt around her rotund belly as his mind struggled to accept the new
"Blondie, that cat ain't fat, she's…"
"Pregnant," they both said together, and in
that instant Hutch felt the tension slip away, leaving him slightly giddy and
light headed. There was nothing to do but live for the moment, and it appeared
that at any moment they were going to be fathers of a litter of kittens.
"Number four is out!" Starsky announced in
a low but triumphant voice. He'd been in complete awe for most of the evening,
watching Pansy deliver four tiny bundles of mewling fur. The last one was coal
black, now lying limply between his mother's paws as she briskly cleaned him up
with her rough, pink tongue. The other three were already trying to nurse, their
tiny brown and white heads butting their mother's round belly. "Think there
are any more?"
Gently probing Pansy's still distended body, Hutch
nodded. "Feels like there's a fifth one in there, but she's worn out. I
hope she can manage…"
Pansy gave an agonized moan, her abdominal muscles
rippling as if in response to Hutch's concern.
"Yep!" Starsky grinned. "I think I see
another black one!"
"Pansy obviously cross-pollinated." Hutch
"What d'you mean?"
"Uh--when cats do it…"
"You're such a prude," Starsky teased.
"'Fuck' the word you're looking for?"
"Thank you, Miss Manners," Hutch said with
a supercilious air. "Every time a Tom cat pokes the queen…"
"This is giving me such ideas."
"Are you listening? Every penetration makes
another kitten. And most Tom cats do it more than once. So, I'm guessing that
those two," Hutch pointed to the two white ones. "Were from one cat,
and the three darker ones were from another guy."
"Pansy!" Starsky chided lightly.
"You're easy?" He held his breath in anticipation as a fifth ball of
fur emerged wetly when Pansy gave a mighty heave. "This is just terrific! I
got home in time to see this!" He held out a tentative finger to kitten
number one who had stumbled drunkenly away from his mother, curling up in a
compact bundle to sleep. When the kitten had settled, Starsky carefully stroked
the minute skull, marveling at the angel softness of newborn fur. "Can I
"Or her," Hutch corrected. "Hard to
tell at this age. Name them all." He scooted backward until he was leaning
against the laundry room wall, knees drawn up under his chin.
Starsky studied his lover, worried at how tired and
stressed out Hutch looked. "You never got any rest after bein' sick."
"Starsky, I bounced back. Had to."
"You didn't have to, you did it for me."
Starsky worked Hutch's right cowboy boot off his foot and then the left one. He
disposed of the socks by flipping them over his shoulder into the laundry hamper
and began to massage Hutch's long feet, concentrating on the ball and the arch.
In a matter of minutes, Hutch was purring louder than any cat.
"Starsky…" Hutch heaved a sigh, his whole
body seeming to loosen up and relax. "I should be doing this for you."
"You can, later, and it'll only take half as
long." Starsky quirked a grin to soften the self-deprecation. "You've
been doin' too much, baby. Let me do something for you." He kneaded the
curved sole with his thumbs, then lightly pulled on each toe. "Feel
"Feels fantastic. Let's give Mama Pansy and her
brood some bonding time so we can do a little bonding of our own."
"Never heard a better plan, but you're going to
have to haul me up off the floor."
"Did you decide on names?" Hutch asked,
bracing Starsky until he got a foot and crutch under him.
"Eeney, Meeny, Miney and Moe," Starsky
"Forgot how to count, Einstein? That's only
four." Hutch held open the door to the kitchen.
"Oh, yeah." Starsky looked back at the
kittens with delight. This was life. This was how mankind--and animal
kind--survived. Birth and then death, on a continuous circle. No escaping the
end, but the ride around the giant Ferris Wheel was seldom boring. His ride
would be shorter than Hutch's, but he wasn't about to jump out of the gondola
before that ride operator with the black cape and the scythe forced him to.
"L'chaim--to celebrate life."
"That's the best one of all." Hutch kissed
him sweetly on the lips, but suddenly Starsky was ravenous and it wasn't for
"Harder," he whispered. "All night
"We have to take it easy, neither of us is
getting any younger." He towed Starsky through the house, his mood
lightening with every step.
"Are you making disparaging remarks because my
birthday is coming up?"
"That's what that big red circle on the calendar
was for!" Hutch feigned surprise, pulling Starsky onto their bed.
"Did you get me a present yet?" Starsky
asked, yanking on the tail of Hutch's button down shirt to pull it free of his
"I've been kind of busy."
"Not busy enough." Starsky arched against
Hutch, their groins aligning like two heat seeking missiles. "I think I can
find something for you to do." He wanted sex, but his body was achy and
tired after a full day, and little Davey wasn't responding as quickly as Starsky
had hoped. He reached down towards Hutch's fly to liberate the more willing
"Wait, it's my turn to give you a massage."
Hutch ran his hands along Starsky's spine to demonstrate.
"I only did your feet," Starsky protested,
but willingly lay down on his belly, the soft comforter inviting him to stretch
out. Hutch worked Starsky's t-shirt over his head but suddenly Starsky could
feel every one of the bumps and bruises acquired in the last few days, and his
energy was waning rapidly. "You'll put me right to sleep, y'know, and then
we won't have any fun."
"I'll still have some fun," Hutch said.
"Does this still hurt?" He gently palpated the greenish-brown bruise
that encompassed Starsky's left rib cage.
"Just don't rub too hard there," Starsky
warned, trying to breathe through the brief spasm that caught him unawares.
"Go further down…" He sighed in total bliss when Hutch began to
knead the muscles of his lower back, using his palms like rolling pins. Hutch
had always had a definite talent for back rubs. Starsky let out all his latent
tensions, melting into a warm puddle under Hutch's skillful manipulations.
"Yeah, there…and that place, those hospital beds are murder on my…"
He gasped when Hutch knuckled a particularly tight knot, which caused warm
tingles to run down the full length of both Starsky's legs until his feet flexed
in response. "Hutch! Do that again!" Starsky urged.
"There?" Hutch hit the exact spot
unerringly, and Starsky rejoiced in the complete absence of any cramping pain in
his missing left foot.
Starsky rolled over, grabbing Hutch's hands.
"You found the right spot!"
"For what, Starsk?"
"My damned foot hurts all the time, like the
toes are curled under and I can't straighten 'em out. You fixed that!"
"Reflexology." Hutch grinned, snaking his
arms around Starsky's narrow waist and lightly probing the area just above his
"It involves hitting certain places on the body
that correspond to other areas, in just the right way." Hutch pulled
Starsky forward so he was practically sitting on Hutch's lap.
"Then do some on this part here." Starsky
guided Hutch's fingers back around to the front, and helped him zip down his
pants. "Cause there are so many other areas that correspond to that
Hutch chuckled deep in his chest, and Starsky could
almost feel the rumbles travel down the length of Hutch's arms and fingers,
communicating that laughter to his cock and rumbling into his own battered
chest. A closed current, as his old science teacher used to say. Connection of a
most primal kind; touch, closeness, holding, and shelter. What a person needed
"Did you know that if babies aren't held close,
they could die? I…read an article…" Starsky closed his eyes, catching
his breath as Hutch delicately brushed the tips of his fingers along Starsky's
cock, never settling in one place, but roaming freely, stimulating sleeping
nerve endings. The resulting erection was a thing of beauty: full, strong, and
pulsing with blood.
"That's what I like to see," Hutch said
smugly, closing the turgid muscle in his fist. "Starsky so turned on he
"Y-you try it sometime," Starsky managed
weakly, all of his senses going haywire. When Hutch licked the tip of his penis
once, Starsky exploded, thrusting with exhilarating force. It hadn't felt so
good in a long time.
"Relaxed now?" Hutch asked lazily, watching
him. He was still playing little finger games, investigating along the ridges
and valleys of Starsky's ribs and abdomen. "You're so skinny."
"Not skinny," Starsky argued with a teasing
glint when he was incapable of movement. "Stream lined for more
"That what they're calling it these days?"
Hutch kissed one brown nipple, circling the other with his thumb. "Seems
strange to have that IV thing on the other side."
Starsky tucked his chin down, staring down his mapped
and charted body. With forty rapidly approaching in just over three weeks time,
he was nothing like the gloriously muscled specimen he'd been at 21. Scars,
bruises and the subclavian IV port all marred his chest. "They moved it
once when I was so out of it I didn't even remember the doctor doin' anything.
Infected, or something. So now it's on the right 'stead of the left."
Hutch kissed the site, then kissed Starsky's lips,
stretching out so they were close, but not totally touching along every point.
"We should get ready for bed."
"We are in bed," Starsky pointed out,
covering Hutch's prominent bulge with his hand. "Warm."
"Yeah, so are you. I got tired of sleeping here
"When did you ever sleep here?" Starsky
murmured, too content to move. "You were at the hospital nearly all the
"Isn't the same." Hutch sounded almost
"Won't ever be," Starsky said mournfully.
He was too tired to stay awake long, but lay there for a while, staring up at
the darkened ceiling, never moving his hand from its favored spot. He was never
going back to the Rose Tree Unit for another stay. Doctor visits, maybe, but he
wasn't ever going to let anything separate him from Hutch again. This was where
he was meant to be.
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